HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Hong Kong police arrested at least 53 people on Sunday (June 28) after scuffles erupted during a relatively peaceful protest against planned national security legislation to be implemented by the mainland Chinese government.
Armed riot police armed were present as a crowd of several hundred moved from Jordan to Mong Kok in the Kowloon district, staging what was intended as a "silent protest" against the planned law.
However, chanting and slogans were shouted towards police and later scuffles broke out in Mong Kok, prompting police to use pepper spray to subdue parts of the crowd.
Hong Kong Police said on Facebook that 53 people had been arrested and charged with unlawful assembly, adding that earlier some protesters tried to blockade roads in the area.
The proposed national security law was discussed by the National People's Congress Standing Committee on Sunday in Beijing at a three-day meeting.
The law is expected to be passed before the end of June but a draft has yet to be made public.
Chinese state media reported that lawmakers overwhelmingly supported the draft. The Chinese government has "unshakable determination to push ahead with enactment of the security bill and safeguard national sovereignty and interest," state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing a government spokesperson.
The proposed law has raised concerns among Hong Kong democracy activists and some foreign governments that Beijing is further eroding the extensive autonomy promised when Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997.
"The governments wants to shut us up and to kick us out," one protester, Roy Chan, 44, said. "We must stand up and strike down all those people who deprive Hong Kong people's freedom."
China has said the law will target only a small group of troublemakers as it tackles separatism, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong.
Sunday's event came a day after Hong Kong police refused permission for an annual march that is held on July 1 to mark the handover of the city from Britain to the Chinese authorities 23 years ago.
Police cited in a statement that a march would be in violation of Hong Kong's current ban of groups of more than 50 people gathering that was put in place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
A survey conducted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute for Reuters showed that the national security legislation is opposed by a majority of people in the financial centre.
It also showed that support for protests dropping to 51 per cent from 58 per cent in June compared with a previous poll conducted for Reuters in March, while opposition to them rose to 34 per cent from 28 per cent.