Hong Kong deployed riot police around the Legislative Council on Wednesday when activists called for protests against a law to criminalize disregard for the Chinese anthem amid growing tensions over perceived threats to the city's freedoms.
The protests have returned to the streets of Hong Kong, which is ruled by China, after Beijing proposed national security laws last week that sparked global fears that the freedoms that would help it as the interface between China and the West could be undermined.
Hundreds of riot police took up positions, and authorities built a two-meter-high wall of water-filled plastic barriers around the Legislative Council that spanned a park to Victoria Harbor.
In other parts of the city, demonstrators blocked rubbish bins and debris to block roads, while activists called for demonstrations online at different locations later in the day.
"Although you are afraid of your heart, you have to say something," said Chang, 29, an employee and demonstrator in black with a helmet ventilator and safety glasses in her backpack.
Police said they arrested at least 16 people, ages 14 to 40, who were involved in crimes such as possession of attack weapons, tools for illegal use, and dangerous driving.
However, protesters in a downtown shopping center sang "Free Hong Kong! Revolution of Our Time" and "Independence from Hong Kong is the only way out" but dispersed when viewpoints called out a warning, "Go Shopping!" at the sight of police cars outside.
A protester was seen with a sign that reads "One country, two systems is a lie", referring to the political system that was introduced when the city was surrendered to China in 1997 and which gave Hong Kong freedoms until at least 2047 guarantee.
"I'm afraid … if you don't come out today you will never be able to get out. This is legislation that affects us directly," said Ryan Tsang, a hotel manager.
Beijing launched national security laws for Hong Kong last week that target secession, subversion, and terrorist activity.
Chinese secret services could set up bases in the semi-autonomous city.
The move triggered the first major street riots in Hong Kong in months on Sunday. Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators, recalling violent protests against the government that had paralyzed parts of the city last year.
The Chinese authorities and the Beijing-backed government in Hong Kong say that the city's high level of autonomy is not at risk and laws are tightly focused.
"It is for the long-term stability of Hong Kong and China, it will not affect freedom of assembly and speech, and it will not affect the city's status as a financial center," Hong Kong chief secretary Matthew Cheung told reporters. "It would create a stable environment for companies."
Hong Kong's most prominent tycoon Li Ka-shing said in a statement that security laws were in the law of every nation, but Hong Kong had the "mission-critical task" to maintain domestic and international confidence in "one country, two systems."
Hong Kong media reported that Beijing had extended the scope of the draft security legislation to organizations and individuals.
The law has been revised to cover not only behaviors or actions that threaten national security, but also activities, the local broadcaster RTHK and the South China Morning Post reported.
US President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the United States would announce a strong response to the proposed security legislation for Hong Kong this week.
The US-China Business Council (USCBC) urged "all leaders to take the necessary steps to relieve tensions, promote economic recovery and the rule of law, and uphold the" one country, two systems "principle."
Asian stocks fell as tensions between the US and China increased. Hong Kong stocks declined, with the Hang Seng falling 0.46%, while remaining a little off Monday's two-month low.
Protesters and pro-democracy politicians say that Hong Kong's national anthem law, which regulates the use and playing of the Chinese national anthem, is another sign of what they see as Beijing's accelerated interference.
The bill includes fines of up to three years in prison and / or fines of up to HK $ 50,000 ($ 6,450) for those who insult the anthem. It also orders that primary and secondary school students in Hong Kong be taught to sing the "March of the Volunteers" along with its history and etiquette.
"As long as people don't violate the hymn law, there's no need to worry. I hope people can discuss the bill rationally," Cheung said.
The anthem bill is scheduled for Wednesday's second reading and is expected to enter into force next month.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)