Police have fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters in Hong Kong where anger at a new extradition bill has spilled over into violence.
Protesters have blocked key roads around government buildings and threw bricks and projectiles at police.
The government is still pushing for the bill which would allow extradition to mainland China and it is expected to pass its final vote on 20 June.
But the Legislative Council (LegCo) has now delayed its second reading.The pro-Beijing LegCo said Wednesday’s scheduled meeting would instead be held at an unspecified “later time”.
Protests had been largely peaceful as thousands of protesters took to the streets and attempted to block access to government buildings ahead of the scheduled debate of the bill.
But on Wednesday, the demonstrations escalated, with tear gas and non-lethal “beanbag” rounds being fired as activists tried to storm government buildings.
The BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse is inside the LegCo building where police have effectively barricaded themselves. He reports one officer is injured and was carried away. The doors have been padlocked.
Pictures shared on social media show protesters hit by water cannon struggling to protect themselves with umbrellas, while TV images showed police officers armed with rubber bullets.
Ambulances are now making their way towards the protest site, according to the Reuters news agency. Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung described the clashes as “rioting”, punishable by 10 years in prison, according to the South China Morning Post.
He said police had “no choice” but to use weapons to stop protesters from barging at defence lines.
“We condemn such irresponsible behaviour. There’s no need to hurt innocent people to express your opinions. But one young protester, decked in a black mask and gloves, told news agency AFP that they would not “leave [until] they scrap the law”.
Critics of the bill of amendments to the extradition laws cite the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions and forced confessions in the Chinese judicial system.
The government has promised legally binding human rights safeguards and other measures it says should alleviate concerns.
Nevertheless, this has led to the largest rallies the territory has seen since it was handed back to China by the British in 1997.
Police said they are also investigating death threats made against Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, over the bill.