China plans to impose a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong following last year's huge and often violent pro-democracy rallies

Hong Kong police fire pepper pellets to disperse rally

Hong Kong riot police fired pepper pellets to disperse protesters in the city as new national security laws proposed by Beijing revived anti-government demonstrations. 

Police also surrounded the Legislative Council where a bill was due to be debated that would criminalise disrespect of the Chinese anthem, amid rising tensions over perceived threats to the semi-autonomous city's freedoms. 

People of all ages took to the streets, some dressed in black, some wearing office clothes, and some hiding their identities with open umbrellas in scenes reminiscent of the unrest that shook the city last year. 

A call to gather around the Legislative Council was scrapped due to a heavy presence of riot police. 

Many shops, bank branches and office buildings closed early. Dozens of people were seen rounded up by riot police and made to sit on a footpath. 

Protests have returned to the streets of Chinese-ruled Hong Kong after Beijing proposed national security laws aimed attacking secession, subversion and terrorist activities.

The planned laws could see Chinese intelligence agencies set up bases in the city.

Fencing was also placed on train tracks in one district and metal spikes were thrown on to a road during the morning commute, they added.

The move triggered the first big street unrest in Hong Kong in months on Sunday, with police firing tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters. 

The United States, Australia, Britain, Canada and others have expressed concerns about the legislation, widely seen as a potential turning point for China's freest city and one of the world's leading financial hubs. 

Police said they had arrested at least 16 people, aged 14-40, for alleged crimes including possession of offensive weapons, possession of tools for illegal use and dangerous driving.

Protesters in a downtown shopping mall chanted "Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our times" and "Hong Kong independence, the only way out", but dispersed as lookouts shouted a warning to "go shopping!" at the sight of police vans outside. 

One protester was seen with a placard reading "one country, two systems is a lie", referring to the political system put in place at Britain's 1997 handover of the city to China that is meant to guarantee Hong Kong's freedoms until at least 2047. 

Chinese authorities and the Beijing-backed government in Hong Kong say there is no threat to the city's high degree of autonomy and the new security laws will be tightly focused.

"It's for the long-term stability of Hong Kong and China, it won't affect the freedom of assembly and speech and it won’t affect the city's status as a financial centre," Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung told reporters. "It would provide a stable environment for businesses." 

Hong Kong media reported Beijing had expanded the scope of the draft security legislation to include organisations as well as individuals. 

The law was being revised to cover not just behaviour or acts that endanger national security, but also activities, broadcaster RTHK and the South China Morning Post reported.

 Protesters and pro-democracy politicians say Hong Kong's National Anthem Bill, which aims to govern the use and playing of the Chinese national anthem, represents another sign of what they see as accelerating interference from Beijing. 

The bill carries penalties of up to three years jail and/o rfines of up to HK$50,000 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 citizens don’t disrespect the anthem law, there’s no need to worry, I hope people can discuss the bill rationally," Chief Secretary Cheung said. 

The anthem bill is set for a second reading today and is expected to become law next month.