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Hong Kong police on Saturday condemned protesters that surrounded its headquarters — calling them "illegal, irrational and unreasonable" — as tensions over the city's relations with mainland China boil over into anger toward police forces.
Mostly black-clad young people, who appeared to number in the thousands at their peak, gathered outside the building Friday morning and protested into the early hours Saturday. Some were throwing eggs and writing slogans on the walls of the police headquarters building before eventually dispersing.
Demonstrators are demanding the withdrawal of a proposed Hong Kong government bill that would allow criminal extraditions to mainland China. The Asian financial center has been shaken by two weeks of political and social turmoil, as hundreds of thousands took to the streets in opposition to the proposed extradition bill.
In a strongly worded statement, police said they showed "the greatest tolerance" to protesters outside the headquarters.
"But their means of expressing views have become illegal, irrational and unreasonable," the statement said, accusing demonstrators of disrupting police work. "Police will stringently follow up on these illegal activities."
Protesters are increasingly venting their anger at police after riot squads sprayed tear gas and fired rubber bullets at crowds on June 12 — actions the police commissioner has described as justified but that demonstrators say was excessive. Demonstrators at the police building demanded the release of people arrested over the June 12 protest.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's top leader, last week indefinitely shelved the extradition bill amid the growing protests. But she has refused calls to resign and formally withdraw the legislation, even though she acknowledged that its passage is unlikely.
Lam has found herself squeezed between Beijing's desire to extend its influence over Hong Kong and the local protest movement that has drawn broad support on worries the city's autonomy is being eroded.
Under a "one country, two systems" framework in place since 1997, Hong Kong has a separate legal system, and manages its own economy and currency — legacies of its time as a British colony — while China handles foreign affairs and defense.
Police offered no estimate for the size of Friday's crowd. Around a dozen officers stood outside the building Saturday morning after protesters left. The expression "never surrender" — written in Chinese and taped on a wall — had been removed, while apparent graffiti was covered up. Cleaning staff washed away egg shells.
The police statement said that 13 staff members were sent to the hospital for treatment with "considerable delay" due to what it termed the "blockade" of the building. Asked to elaborate, a police spokeswoman told CNBC those treated had "felt unwell."
Joshua Wong, who played a leading role in 2014 protests in Hong Kong for broader democracy and joined the protesters at police headquarters, called the demonstration a "peaceful assembly" when contacted by CNBC.
Wong added that the police statement "can't solve the problem" of anger people feel toward the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.
The Hong Kong government issued a statement late Friday lamenting public "inconvenience" caused by demonstrations during the day, including at the police headquarters, and called on protesters to "act peacefully and rationally."