Hong Kong students hold second day of class boycotts and pro-democracy rallies

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Thousands of Hong Kong students boycotted the first day of class on Monday to participate in a city-wide strike following violent demonstrations.
Students wearing masks and helmets outside St Paul's College during a protest in Hong Kong on Sept 3, 2019. PHOTO: AP

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Hong Kong school and university students boycotted classes and held pro-democracy rallies for the second straight day on Tuesday (Sept 3), further fuelling the political crisis in the Chinese-ruled city.

The protesters were calling for their "five demands" including the withdrawal of the now-suspended extradition Bill, the retraction of the word "riot" to describe rallies, the release of all arrested demonstrators, an independent inquiry into the police and the right for Hongkongers to democratically choose their own leaders.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said she was open to dialogue with protesters but has made no concessions on these demands.

"I think Carrie Lam doesn't have much power," said Poon, a 21-year-old engineering student at Hong Kong University. "No matter she can step down or not, it doesn't matter.

Thousands of students joined demonstrations at universities on Monday, many wearing gas masks, joining hands to form human chains and chanting for Hong Kong to be given greater autonomy from the central Chinese government.

The runaway rebellion in Hong Kong is piling pressure on its embattled leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who was due to hold a media conference in the morning.

Reuters exclusively reported on Tuesday that Mrs Lam told business leaders last week that she had caused "unforgivable havoc" by igniting the political crisis by introducing a now-suspended extradition Bill that would see people sent to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts.

Mrs Lam said she would quit if she had a choice, according to a leaked audio recording. A spokesman for Mrs Lam said her office would not comment on private meetings.

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in protests since mid-June in a direct challenge to Beijing, which has accused foreign powers, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting the unrest.

China has not ruled out using force against the protests, and is eager to quell the unrest before the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on Oct 1.

A spokesman for China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office is due to speak to the media about the situation in Hong Kong at 3pm.

Tensions are running high, with several brief skirmishes around the territory after night fell on Monday. Police fired tear gas to clear protesters in the densely populated Mongkok region of the Kowloon peninsula.

This followed a weekend marred by some of the worst violence since unrest escalated more than three months ago, with protesters burning barricades and throwing petrol bombs, and police retaliating with water cannon, tear gas and batons.

Protesters are seeking greater democracy in the former British colony which returned to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that guarantees wide-ranging autonomy, including an independent judiciary. Many in the city fear Beijing has been eroding those freedoms.

Hong Kong, an Asian financial hub and major trading port, is facing its first recession in a decade as a result of the protests, which have severely hit tourism in the city and undermined investor confidence.

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