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Hong Kong: 44 protesters charged with rioting

By Darryl Coote
Hong Kong: 44 protesters charged with rioting
Anti-extradition protesters protect themselves from the rain with umbrellas as they arrive at the Eastern Magistrates' Court in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday. Photo by Jerome Favre/EPA-EFE

July 31 (UPI) -- A Hong Kong magistrate released on bail Wednesday 43 people charged with rioting in connection to Sunday's violent protest.

They are the first riot charges to be filed since the island erupted in protests two months ago over a controversial extradition bill.

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If found guilty, they could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The magistrate handed down midnight to 6 a.m. curfews to all but two defendants: a Cathay Pacific pilot and a man who works the night shift at a children's home.

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An arrest warrant was issued for a 44th person charged with rioting who did not appear before the packed courtroom and a 45th person was charged with possession of an offensive weapon.

A 33-year-old man faces an additional charge of assaulting a police officer.

His lawyer, Hectar Pun, said he and the man charged with possession of an offensive weapon were protecting a 16-year-old girl who had fallen on the ground during the commotion of the protest.

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The girl, a local student, was also charged and was the youngest of the group to have been indicted.

As they were released on $127 bail, the protesters were greeted by hundreds of rain-drenched supporters waving signs and chanting "no rioters, no tyranny."

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On Sunday, demonstrators took over the streets of northern Hong Kong Island, but the protest turned violent after police attempted to disperse the crowds and the demonstrators fought back by making the roads slick with cooking oil and eggs against the advancing riot police discharging tear gas into the air.

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Police said Tuesday that it arrested 49 people -- 32 men and 17 women -- on Sunday, and charged 45 of them with crimes following an investigation.

"They set up roadblocks by umbrellas, wooden planks, bamboo sticks and railings; pried up pavement bricks, demolished roadside fences, damaged street signs and lampposts as well as attacked police officers at scene with lethal weapons such as bricks and sharpened iron rods," police said in a statement.

Although police repeatedly warned the demonstrators to leave the area as they were participating in an illegal assembly, they refused and "continued to perform various peace-breaching acts and attack police officers," the statement said. "After repeated warnings were ignored, police took dispersal action at about 7 p.m. to restore order."

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Though the protests started in early June in demand for the repeal of a bill that would allow for some refugees from Chinese law to be extradited to face courts on the mainland, they have evolved into a wider, pro-democracy movement for Hong Kong independence from China and against police brutality.

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On Monday, the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office held a press conference, condemning the protesters as having committed "evil and criminal acts."

"Hong Kong is China's Hong Kong," said the office's spokesman Yang Guang Monday in Beijing. "Hong Kong's affairs are China's domestic affairs."

It was the first press conference the top Chinese office that oversees Hong Kong affairs has held since it was established in 1997.

Hong Kong functions under a "one country, two systems" model that affords the island privileges the mainland does not have. Protesters have viewed the extradition bill, which has since been shelved, as a whittling away at the freedoms they were granted after the city was transferred from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

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