Hundreds of protesters gathered on Monday at a crowded commercial street in Hong Kong for a pro-democracy rally that drew pro-Beijing counter-protesters while dozens of police formed a line to keep the two sides apart.

Demosisto, a pro-democracy political party, broke into a heated argument with a few counter-protesters when the police rushed to intervene and lined up Hennessy Road with additional officers.

Among the counter-protestors were a string of groups waving China flags and banners positioned along the sidewalk from starting point of the protest on East Point Road, as pro-democracy supporters from the Civic Party and League of Social Democracy marched behind the rally organized by the Civil Human Rights Front.

Raymond Wong, long-time protest observer and volunteer writer for a local independent news outlet, Citizen News said haphazard appearances of counter-protesters are common.

“These people appear every year in random groups at any given time of the rally. I have been watching protests around the issue of democracy for decades and the clashes only get worse,” said Wong, referring to the China flag-waving demonstrators.

One counter-protester who preferred not to be named said all pro-democracy groups are “being financed by a third party and they are conspiring against real Chinese people.” Representing Voice of Loving Hong Kong, a popularly known pro-Beijing organization, the counter-protester said the pro-independence movements fuels an anti-Hong Kong sentiment.

“We are Hongkongers and should realize our rights as a Chinese society would not have come true if it were not for Beijing,” the counter-protester said.

Prominent politicians were at the march to throw their support behind free speech advocacy groups. Former opposition lawmaker, Leung Kwok-hung was one of them.

Leung spoke about the counter-protest and recent ban of the Hong Kong National Party is a blatant violation of human rights.

“As a political party, [the National Party] only promoted their political ideals. You should not punish people who exercise their freedom of expression or association,” said the 62-year old Legislative Council member. “Counter-protesting only reinforces that.”

The rally comes one week after the Hong Kong government’s unprecedented ban of the separatist political camp – the Hong Kong National Party – on national security grounds.

According to the police, no one was injured during the confrontations.

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