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Hong Kong police say student arrests at protests increase

Protesters form a human chain outside the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong, on Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

HONG KONG (AP) -- Hong Kong police said Friday that students account for 29% of nearly 1,600 people detained in anti-democracy protests since June and urged young people to take the "straight and narrow path" as more major rallies loom this weekend.

Police public relations chief Tse Chun-chung said 207 high school and university students were detained this month alone despite the resumption of classes after the summer holiday, up from 257 over the June-August period.

He said there was a rise in teenagers participating in violent crimes, with some already charged in court. This included a 16-year-old charged recently with arson, which carries a life imprisonment upon conviction, a 13-year-old girl charged with desecrating Chinese flags and others with attacking police officers and carrying dangerous weapons.

"It is an alarming trend to us," he said at a news conference. "It is worrying to see these youths breaking the law and possibly having criminal records at such a young and tender age. We appeal to all youngsters to rethink their actions and hope the education sector and parents will help our young people to walk the straight and narrow path."

Yong people have largely led the protests that started in June over an extradition bill that the government has now agreed to withdraw. But the movement has since drew wider participation as it snowballed into a wider anti-China campaign against what protesters say is Beijing's creeping intrusion into Hong Kong's autonomy promised when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Protesters have widened their demands to include direct elections for the city's leaders and police accountability.

Police have approved a major rally in downtown Hong Kong on Saturday by the Civil Human Rights Front to mark the fifth anniversary of the Umbrella Revolution, when protesters occupied key thoroughfares in the city for 79 days in 2014 to demand universal suffrage. That movement ended without any government concession.

Protesters are also organizing "anti-totalitarianism" rallies in Hong and many cities worldwide on Sunday against what they denounced as China's tyranny.

Tse appealed to protesters to stop hijacking peaceful protests, like what had happened in previous rallies when some lobbed petrol bombs, set off street fires and vandalized public utilities. Police have responded with tear gas, water cannons, and other measures, prompting complaints from protesters that they are using excessive force.

The Front is also planning another big march on Oct. 1, sparking fears of a bloody showdown that could embarrass China's ruling Communist Party as it marks its 70th year in power with grand festivities in Beijing. The Hong Kong government has scaled down National Day celebrations by calling off an annual firework display and moving a reception indoors.

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