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Hong Kong leader thanks police after clashes with 'rioters'

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam thanked police on Monday after violent scuffles erupted between law enforcement officers and protesters demanding her resignation. A demonstration Sunday in Hong Kong's Sha Tin district was peaceful for most of the day, but fights broke out when police started clearing streets after nightfall. Some protesters retreated into a shopping complex where they and police hit each other with clubs and umbrellas.

Lam paid a hospital visit to police officers who were injured and expressed gratitude to them for safeguarding law and order in Hong Kong. "They are committed, professional and have exercised restraint when they were being attacked by those whom I describe as 'rioters,'" she told reporters.

Large-scale protests began in Hong Kong last month in opposition to proposed extradition legislation that would allow people in Hong Kong to be sent for trials in mainland China, where critics say their legal rights would not be guaranteed. In response to a series of massive demonstrations calling for the bills' withdrawal, Lam said the legislation was "dead." But thousands have continued to take to the streets to call for greater government accountability and democratic reforms.

While largely peaceful, the protests have at times devolved into clashes between protesters and police, who have used pepper spray, bean bag rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas to quell demonstrators. The protesters are in turn calling for police to be held responsible for their tactics. Activists have also accused Lam of ignoring public sentiment and called on her to resign.

"Although I am currently encountering a huge difficulty, I have publicly stressed many times that I will continue to still bear my responsibility and have the passion for continuing my job until the end of my term," Lam said Monday.

Both pro-democracy legislators and ones who support China's Communist Party-led central government held news conferences on Monday to address the clashes. "Both sides have to come out and establish communication channels," said pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee.

"I think (Lam) and also the bureau responsible should come out and respond to this issue," Lee said. "Otherwise Hong Kong will be the loser and no Hong Kong person wants to see this happen again and again."

Pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo described the current tumult as "the biggest political and governance crisis Hong Kong has ever faced." "The whole of Hong Kong found it difficult to cope," Mo said. "We urge once again Carrie Lam to come out and face the people."

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