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Hong Kong protests paralyze travel but leader vows to stay on

Hong Kong -- Droves of protesters filled public parks and squares in several Hong Kong districts on Monday in a general strike staged on a weekday to draw more attention to their demands that the semi-autonomous Chinese city's leader resign.

Protesters took over a major road outside the main government office on Monday, threw eggs and bricks at the building and punctured large water-filled barriers set up by police to keep them away.

Police responded with tear gas, but the protesters did not immediately disperse.

Earlier, police used tear gas on protesters in the Wong Tai Sin district, the scene of clashes with protesters over the weekend.

The general strike led to more than 200 flight cancellations at the city's airport and protesters disrupted subway service during the morning commute.

Demonstrators attend a rally to support the city-wide strike and to call for democratic reforms at New Town Plaza shopping mall in Hong Kong
Demonstrators attend a rally to support city-wide strike and to call for democratic reforms at New Town Plaza shopping mall in Hong Kong on August 5, 2019 KIM KYUNG-HOON / REUTERS

Nevertheless, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam maintained that she has no plans to resign in the face of the turbulent pro-democracy movement.

Hong Kong is on "the verge of a very dangerous situation," Lam said. She said current protests were operating with "ulterior motives" that threaten Hong Kong's prosperity and security.

"I don't think at this point in time, resignation of myself or some of my colleagues would provide a better solution," she said at a news conference.

Police said Monday they'd arrested 420 people since June 9 and fired 1,000 rounds of tear gas and approximately 160 rubber bullets, according to the Reuters news service.

The strike is the latest development in a summer of fiery demonstrations that began in June against proposed extradition legislation that would have allowed some criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China to stand trial. While the government has since suspended the bill, protesters have pressed on with broader calls for democratic reforms and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 under the framework of "one country, two systems," which promised the city certain democratic freedoms not afforded to the mainland. But some Hong Kong residents feel that Beijing has been increasingly encroaching on their freedoms.

Protesters snarled the Monday morning rush hour by blocking train and platform doors, preventing subway and commuter rail trains from leaving their stations.

More than 200 flights out of Hong Kong were cancelled after a large number of airport employees called in sick in apparent participation in the general strike, Hong Kong media reported. Public broadcaster RTHK said Cathay Pacific and other domestic carriers such as Hong Kong Airlines were the most affected. Airport express train service was also suspended.

"Too much. Why do they have to create trouble for people not involved in their cause?" said 52-year-old John Chan, whose flight to Singapore was cancelled. "Hong Kong is sinking. The government, police and protest people have to stop fighting and give us a break."

The citywide strike and demonstrations in seven Hong Kong districts follow a weekend of street clashes between protesters and riot police.

The Communist Party-led central government in Beijing has condemned what it calls violent and radical protesters who have vandalized the Chinese national anthem and national flag on the sidelines of major rallies. China has accused unnamed "foreign forces" of inflaming the demonstrations out of a desire to contain the country's development.

On Chinese state broadcaster CCTV's daily noon news report, an anchor read aloud from a strongly-worded editorial titled "The Chaos in Hong Kong Must Not Continue."

"We warn those maniacs and thugs who intend to continue to mess up Hong Kong by holding to a fantasy that you must pay a price for your savage revenge," the editorial said. "So please become aware of your errors, turn back from your incorrect path and set down the butcher's knives."

Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy lawmaker, said Beijing should consider engaging with protesters through Lam.

"We hope the learned people in Beijing would at least deliver some sincerity by suggesting via Carrie Lam, 'OK, you guys want democracy, perhaps we can talk,"' Mo said Monday. "We can talk - just three words. And maybe that can help appease the society."

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