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Hong Kong police warn protests off designated route illegal

People gather at a public park ahead of a planned demonstration in Hong Kong, on Aug. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Police Senior Superintendent (Operations) Hong Kong Island Ng Lok-chun, center, speaks during a press conference in Hong Kong, on Aug. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Protesters hold up the lights on their phones as they gather at a demonstration by civil servants in Hong Kong on Aug. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

HONG KONG (AP) -- Hong Kong police on Saturday called on protesters to stick to designated routes and times after violent clashes marred the last eight weekends of rallies calling for greater rights and government accountability.

Police held a briefing ahead of a scheduled rally in Mong Kok, a bustling shopping district with a history of hosting pro-democracy protests. Any demonstrations that are not pre-approved will be "cleared out" as unlawful assemblies, police said.

Hong Kong's summer of protests, sparked by an unpopular extradition bill, has continued unabated despite the government's decision to suspend the legislation that would have sent some suspects to mainland China for trial. While the pro-democracy rallies have been largely peaceful, they have increasingly devolved into skirmishes with police after some protesters refused to disperse at assigned times. In the past two months, protesters have vandalized buildings and thrown bricks, while police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 under the framework of "one country, two systems." The city's mini-constitution promises the city certain freedoms not afforded to those in the mainland, but Hong Kongers say Beijing has chipped away at their autonomy in recent years.

Several thousand civil servants and their supporters crowded into a public park on Friday evening to show solidarity with the movement, which has broadened to include demands for direct elections and an investigation into alleged police brutality. Hong Kong residents have accused police of negligence after 44 people were injured last month in a mob attack that appeared to target protesters. Authorities said their resources were stretched due to the prolonged demonstrations.

Mong Kok, the site of Saturday's protest, was one area where protesters set up a pro-democracy demonstration zone in 2014. Near the end of the Occupy Central protests, police officers descended on the site and tore down the metal barricades, bamboo and wooden planks protesters had used to block off key streets.

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