The authorities in Hong Kong on Thursday closed government offices in the heart of the city after mass protests against a controversial extradition bill that would allow the extradition of people to mainland China.

The embattled leader of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory has described the protests as politically motivated “riots” and condemned protesters who resorted to “dangerous and life-threatening acts”.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has defended the controversial bill, insisting the legal changes were crucial to the territory’s future.

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Hong Kong protests: All the latest updates

Outside the Legislative Council and main government building where police used rubber-coated bullets, tear gas and pepper spray into the night against the protesters on Wednesday, barricades were being removed and rubbish cleared. Heavy rain kept many away.

Al Jazeera’s Sarah Clarke, reporting from Hong Kong, said the police had pushed the crowd to the neighbouring Central district before people finally went home at around 2am local time on Thursday (18:00GMT, Wednesday).

“The streets are clear [and] the clean-up is under way,” she said. “We are starting to see traffic resume on these roads that were paralysed for most of Wednesday.”

Thousands of people surrounded Legco (the legislative building) on Wednesday morning before a scheduled second debate on the extradition bill.

Critics fear the amendments will undermine Hong Kong’s judicial independence and further erode the freedoms guaranteed to the city under the “one country two systems” when it was returned to China by the British in 1997.

The protests followed a march on Sunday that brought an estimated one million people onto the streets.

Debate postponed

The demonstrations forced the debate to be postponed to an unspecified date, but the mood turned ugly when some of the protesters tried to get through the barricades and into the building.

Lam has said she wants the bill passed before the summer recess. It is not clear when it will next be tabled.

The chief executive said the protests were “organised riots” and, in an emotional television interview, rejected accusations that she was betraying Hong Kong by pushing ahead with the proposals in defiance of public opinion.

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