Hong Kong on edge before national anthem bill: Live updates

Riot police fire pepper pellets as they try to disperse demonstrators while legislators debate controversial bill.

Hong Kong riot police have made arrests and fired pepper pellets to disperse protesters in the heart of the global financial centre, as new national security laws proposed by Beijing revived anti-government demonstrations.

According to police, at least 180 people were arrested in the city's Causeway Bay and Central districts on Wednesday for allegedly participating in unauthorised assembly.

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

The bill would also require that the anthem be taught in schools and sung by organisations.

The semi-autonomous Chinese territory is also on edge over China's plans to impose "national security" legislation on Thursday.

The Legislative Council, known as the "LegCo", began its session at 11am (03:00 GMT). The session was adjourned for lunch before resuming around 2pm (06:00 GMT).

Here are the latest updates:

08:14 GMT - Japan gov't spokesman: Strongly concerned about situation in Hong Kong

The Japanese government is strongly concerned about the situation in Hong Kong, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a regular press conference.

Hong Kong riot police fired pepper pellets to disperse protesters in the heart of the global financial centre on Wednesday, as new national security laws proposed by Beijing revived anti-government demonstrations.

07:20 GMT - Protesters rounded up in Causeway Bay, Central districts

Hong Kong police were seen rounding up dozens of protesters in the Causeway Bay area of the city.

Images posted on social media showed protesters being ordered on the ground, as officers watched over them.

Police were also seen pinning down protesters on the ground in the Central district.

06:50 GMT - Young protesters in handcuffs paraded by police

Several young protesters wearing masks and in handcuffs were seen paraded by police in Hong Kong.

Members of the media were unable to move closer to the protesters, as they were held back by a police cordon.

06:33 GMT - LegCo session resumes

Hong Kong's Legislative Council has resumed its session after a lunch break, to continue discussions on the controversial national anthem bill.

During the afternoon session, LegCo President Andrew Leung rejected a bid to move an adjournment debate.

Meanwhile, the secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, Erick Tsang, told reporters that he did not think the new legislation "will have any influence on our freedoms,"  as he defended the proposed national security law and anthem law.

06:23 GMT - Taiwan to form special body to handle Hong Kong issue

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen announced in a press conference on Wednesday that she will form a special group to tackle the Hong Kong issue.

The body, under the Executive Yuan, will handle matters including people arriving from Hong Kong to settle in Taiwan.

06:10 GMT - Hong Kong: Why China's national anthem bill is so controversial

Hong Kong deployed riot police around the Legislative Council on Wednesday as activists called for protests against a bill to criminalise disrespect of the Chinese anthem, amid soaring tensions over perceived threats to the city's freedoms.

A second reading of the bill is being held on Wednesday. 

This article further explains why the national anthem bill is controversial.

05: 35 GMT - Riot police fire pepper pellets to disperse protesters

Riot police have dispersed anti-government protesters during a lunchtime protest outside the Central Government Complex as a second reading of a controversial national anthem law takes place in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Reuters news agency is reporting that the Hong Kong police fired pepper pellets to break up the protests.

People take cover as riot police use pepper spray during a protest as a second reading of a controversial national anthem law takes place in Hong Kong on Wednesday [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

05:13 GMT - Expert says Hong Kong crackdown inevitable

Since the anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year, it was just a matter of time before Bejing responded and carried out a crackdown against the opposition and civilians, an expert from Lowy Institute said.

Ben Bland, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Australia-based think-tank, said the ongoing coronavirus pandemic was "fortuitous timing" for China to impose its national security law, while the attention of other countries was focused on containing the deadly disease, and when Hong Kong residents were also constrained in carrying out protests.

"The proposed national security legislation is a huge blow to Hong Kong's way of life. It is a blow to the pro-democracy movement and even to the business community," he told Al Jazeera.   

04:48 GMT - Billionaire Li Ka Shing backs national security bill

Hong Kong's billionaire Li Ka-shing has expressed his support for the controversial national security law which China is expected to approve on Thursday.

The pro-Beijing publications, Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, quoted Li as saying that the law would help in the long-term stability and prosperity of the city, even as he also called on the Hong Kong government to strengthen people's confidence in the "one country, two systems" policy.

04:18 GMT - 16 people arrested in Hong Kong

Hong Kong police said in a statement on Wednesday that at least 16 people had been arrested today for carrying out "illegal" activities across the city - a Special Administrative Region of China.

Those who were arrested were aged between 14 to 40, according to the statement posted on social media.

03:40 GMT - Heavy security reported outside LegCo

Hong Kong police have been deployed around Hong Kong government's headquarters and Legislative Council on Wednesday, as legislators hold their latest session to discuss a proposed law imposing criminal punishment against those who "disrespect" China's national anthem and flag.

Police reportedly blocked a footbridge leading to the Central Government Complex, leaving only one footbridge for public access.

02:45 GMT - LegCo session due to start at 11am (03G) with questions

The LegCo session is due to get under way shortly and will start with various administration officials responding to legislators' questions.

Given the current tensions in Hong Kong, a couple of the six questions slated for oral reply stand out. The second is for the secretary for security and relates to "preventing the emergency of homegrown terrorism".  Question six relates to Article 23 of the Basic Law, which covers national security.

02:00 GMT - Five teenagers arrested with petrol bombs, helmets, gas masks

AFP is reporting that the police have arrested five under-18s in three different areas around the city. One group had Molotov cocktails, another a screwdriver and the others, helmets and gas masks. The youngest is just 14.

00:30 GMT - Trump warns US to have "strong response" to China security legislation

US President Donald Trump says the US will announce its response to China's plan to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong by the end of this week.

When asked whether the response would include sanctions, Trump responded: "No, it's something you're going to be hearing about ... before the end of the week, very powerfully, I think."

You can read more on Trump's comments and US reaction to China's recent moves in Hong Kong here.

00:00 GMT - Hundreds of riot police surround LegCo

Hundreds of riot police have been deployed around the LegCo building, which has been sealed off behind a wall of blue and white water-filled plastic barriers, Reuters reported.

Blue and white water-filled barricades erected near the Legislative Council Complex in Hong Kong ahead of the second reading of the controversial national anthem bill [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]