HONG KONG (AFP) -- Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on Wednesday as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China.
Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to disperse crowds of black-clad demonstrators -- most of them young people and students -- calling for authorities to scrap the Beijing-backed law.
Clashes broke out shortly after 3:00 pm (0700 GMT) -- the deadline protesters had given for the government to abandon the controversial bill -- and continued throughout the afternoon in the worst political violence the city has seen in years.
Rows of riot police battled protesters -- many wearing face masks, helmets or goggles and using umbrellas as shields -- who had gathered in the centre of the city ahead of a scheduled debate in the city's legislature.
Hong Kong's police chief Stephen Lo defended his officers, saying they had shown restraint until "mobsters" tried to storm parliament.
"These violent protesters kept charging at our line of defense, and used very dangerous weapons, including... throwing metal barricades at us and throwing bricks," he said.
Organizers said more than a million people turned out on Sunday to oppose the proposed law, which would allow Hong Kong to send suspects to other jurisdictions around the world -- including China.
But the record numbers failed to sway Hong Kong's pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam, who has rejected calls to withdraw the bill.
Matthew Cheung, the city's chief secretary, on Wednesday called on demonstrators to withdraw.
"I also urge citizens who have gathered to show restraint as much as possible, disperse peacefully and do not defy the law," he said in a video message.
Western nations have criticized the plans while Beijing has voiced support.
Hong Kong's leaders say the proposed law is needed to plug loopholes and to stop the city being a sanctuary for fugitives, and that safeguards are in place to ensure that political critics of Beijing will not be targeted.