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2 sides scuffle in Hong Kong as day of protests begins

Anti-government protesters gather in the Wang Chai district as pro-China supporters try to block them, on Oct. 1, 2019, in Hong Kong, before the celebration of the People's Republic's 70th anniversary taking place in Beijing. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Police patrol around Victoria Harbour in the bay area, on Oct. 1, 2019, in Hong Kong, before the celebration of the People's Republic's 70th anniversary taking place in Beijing. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

HONG KONG (AP) -- Police used pepper spray to break up a brief scuffle Tuesday between Beijing supporters and a small group of pro-democracy protesters who were marching in Hong Kong on the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China.

The semi-autonomous city's government marked the anniversary in a morning ceremony on what is expected to be a day of protests demanding democratic reforms. Posters in the city where many worry the Beijing central government is eroding Hong Kong's promised freedoms are calling for the Oct. 1 anniversary to be marked as "A Day of Grief."

Police had lined up to separate the protesters and counter-protesters, but some minor scuffles ensued. Two pro-Beijing protesters were arrested.

The government tightened security to thwart violence as the pro-democracy protesters plan rallies in multiple locations. An annual fireworks display was canceled, several subway stations were closed and airport rail link service curtailed to minimize disruptions.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung told hundreds of guests at a reception that the city has become "unrecognizable" due to radical acts by protesters. Cheung was representing the city's leader, Carrie Lam, who led a delegation to Beijing to join festivities there.

Cheung said Beijing fully supports the 'one country, two systems' framework that gives Hong Kong freedoms and rights not enjoyed on the mainland. The protests began in early June over a now-shelved extradition bill that activists say was an example of how those promises have been eroding.

Police warned Monday that hard-line protesters may engage in extreme acts that are "one step closer to terrorism" such as killing police, posing as police officials to kill civilians, and large-scale arson including at gas stations. Activists ridiculed the assertion as a scare tactic.

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