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Hundreds march in Hong Kong against use of tear gas; city braces for further protests

By Kate O'Donnell-Lamb and David Dolan

By Kate O'Donnell-Lamb and David Dolan

HONG KONG, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters in Hong Kong, including many families with children, marched on Sunday in protest against police use of tear gas as the Asian financial hub geared up for further anti-government demonstrations following a week of calm.

Carrying yellow balloons and waving banners that read "No tear gas, save our children", the protesters streamed through the city's central business district towards government headquarters on the main Hong Kong island. Three marches are planned for Sunday and all have been approved by authorities. On Saturday, secondary school students and retirees joined forces to protest against what they called police brutality and unlawful arrests.

Activists have pledged to maintain the momentum of the movement that has roiled the China-ruled territory for nearly six months.

Holding umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun, many people were seen pushing their children in strollers, while one man with a balloon festooned to his wheelchair also joined the procession.

"We want the police to stop using tear gas," said a woman surnamed Wong, who was marching with her husband and five year old son.

"It's not a good way to solve the problem. The government needs to listen to the people. It is ridiculous."

Police have fired around 10,000 rounds of tear gas since June, the city's Secretary for Security, John Lee, said this week.

Anti-government protests have rocked the former British colony since June, at times forcing government offices, businesses, schools and even the international airport to shut. However, there has been relative calm since local elections last Sunday delivered an overwhelming victory to pro-democracy candidates.

Sunday's marches came as a top Hong Kong official said the government was looking into setting up an independent committee to review the handling of the crisis, in which demonstrations have become increasingly violent.


FURTHER PROTESTS

The protesters in Hong Kong are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering and says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula put in place at that time and has blamed foreign forces for fomenting unrest.

While Saturday's rallies were mostly peaceful, public broadcaster RTHK reported that police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters after a vigil outside the Prince Edward metro station. Some residents believe that some protesters were killed by police there three months ago. Police have denied that account.

Further protests are planned through the week and a big test of support for the anti-government campaign is expected on December 8 with a rally planned by Civil Human Rights Front, the group that organised million-strong marches in June.

On Sunday afternoon organisers have planned a "march of gratitude" where activists are planning to march to the U.S. consulate.

Another march is planned in the popular shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui.

That march is scheduled to end in Hung Hom, a district near the ruined campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

The campus turned into a battleground in mid-November when protesters barricaded themselves in and faced off riot police in violent clashes of petrol bombs, water cannon and tear gas.

About 1,100 people were arrested last week, some while trying to escape.

On Friday police withdrew from the university after collecting evidence and removing dangerous items including thousands of petrol bombs, arrows and chemicals which had been strewn around the site. (Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)