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Hong Kong protests: Several thousand march against mainland Chinese traders in town near border

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Hong Kong protests: Several thousand march against mainland Chinese traders in town near border
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Reuters
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It's fast become a common scene in Hong Kong. Police, once again clash with protesters, firing pepper spray and baton-charging them as umbrellas and hard hats are thrown back at them.

This latest demonstration in the Hong Kong territorial town of Sheung Shui, not far from the Chinese city of Shenzhen, began peacefully on Saturday morning but soon devolved into scuffles and shouting.

Activists are this time protesting against mainland traders in a town near the border, channelling energy from huge demonstrations against an extradition bill to another issue that they say the government has mismanaged.

"There isn't an anti-extradition protest every day to keep us going - so enthusiasm will decrease," said 25-year-old protester Amy Chan.

"I hope that through today's action, people in Hong Kong will not forget that there are actually many other social issues waiting to be solved."

This summer of unrest in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory is the latest in a series that have roiled the former British colony for more than a month.

Sometimes violent street protests have drawn in millions of people, with hundreds even storming the legislature on July 1 to oppose a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to China to face trial in courts under ruling Communist Party control.

Critics see the bill as a threat to Hong Kong's rule of law.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam this week said the bill was "dead" after having suspended it last month, but opponents vow to settle for nothing short of its formal withdrawal.

Protests against the bill had largely taken place in Hong Kong's main business district, but demonstrators have recently begun to look elsewhere to widen support by taking up narrower, more domestic issues.

In Sheung Shui, protesters rallied to oppose small-time Chinese traders who make short trips into the territory to buy goods that they then haul back to China to sell.

Walking behind a banner that read "Strictly enforce the law, stop cross-border traders," the protesters passed by pharmacies and cosmetic shops that are popular with Chinese tourists and traders. Many of the stores were shuttered because of the protest.

The small-time mainland traders have long been a source of anger among some in Hong Kong who argue they have fuelled inflation, dodged taxes, diluted the town's identity, and caused a spike in property prices.

Organiser Ronald Leung, a leader of the North District Parallel Imports Concern Group, said residents have been complaining about the issue of Chinese traders for many years.

"Citizens are really angry," he said. "They want to come out and show their concern over the cross-border trader's problem in the area, which is never solved."

Jimmy Sham of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organised protests against the extradition bill said the root problem was Hong Kong's lack of full democracy.

"The government, Carrie Lam, some legislators in functional constituencies are not elected by the people, so there are many escalating actions in different districts to reflect different social issues," he said.

"If political problems are not solved, social well-being issues will continue to emerge endlessly."

Anti-extradition protesters plan another demonstration on Sunday in the town of Sha Tin, in the so-called New Territories between Hong Kong island and the border with China.