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Hong Kong braces itself for a third weekend of protests against unpopular extradition bill

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Hong Kong braces itself for a third weekend of protests against unpopular extradition bill
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Police in Hong Kong removed barricades early on Saturday morning while staff were able to go home, after more than a 15-hour blockade. But it was unclear whether further mass protests would take place.

Only a few hundred protesters remained out of the thousands who set up roadblocks and trapped vehicles outside the police headquarters on Friday, protesting against an unpopular extradition bill.

Millions of people, fearing an erosion of their freedoms, have clogged the streets of the Asian financial centre this month to rally against the bill, which would allow people to be extradited to the mainland to face trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.

Opponents of the extradition bill fear the law could put them at the mercy of the mainland Chinese justice system.

It triggered the most violent protests in decades when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowds.

On Friday, groups of mostly students wearing hard hats and goggles held a generally peaceful protest to demand that leader Carrie Lam, who promoted and then postponed the bill, scrap it altogether.

The crisis, which has been the greatest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012, once again forced the temporary closure of Hong Kong government offices over security concerns.

Roads that would normally be jammed with traffic near the heart of the former British colony were empty, with demonstrators reinforcing roadblocks with metal barriers.

"Never surrender," echoed through the streets as the protesters chanted near police headquarters and called on police chief Stephen Lo to step down.

In a statement early on Saturday, police said the protesters had seriously affected their work including the provision of emergency services to the public.

"Police have shown the greatest tolerance to the protesters...but their means of expressing views have become illegal, irrational and unreasonable. Police will stringently follow up on these illegal activities."

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and since then has been governed under a "one country, two systems" formula that allows more freedoms than mainland China, including a much-cherished independent judiciary.

Beijing's squeeze sparked pro-democracy protests in 2014 that paralysed parts of the city for 79 days.

Many accuse China of obstructing democratic reforms, interfering with elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialised in works critical of Chinese leaders.

Friday's marchers demanded that the government drop all charges against those arrested in last week's clashes, charge police with what they describe as violent action and stop referring to the protests as a riot.

The government said the protests had caused much disruption and appealed for them to act peacefully and rationally. With regard to the bill, it said the government had put a stop to legislation on the matter.

The turmoil has raised questions over Lam's ability to govern, two years after she was elected and pledged to "unite and move forward".

While Lam admitted shortcomings over the bill and said she had heard the people "loud and clear", she has rejected repeated calls to step down.