MANILA -- Filipinos in Hong Kong should stay away from areas where authorities and protesters clashed over a Beijing-backed plan to allow extraditions to China, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday.
Clashes that have injured some 70 people erupted Wednesday, hours after tens of thousands of protesters seized key arteries in the city and surrounded its parliament, forcing lawmakers to postpone a debate on the proposed law.
The Philippine Consulate asked Filipinos to "keep away from demonstration areas which are generally concentrated outside the government central offices, particularly the Legislative Complex, in Admiralty and in Tamar Park," said the DFA.
Filipinos should also "exercise extreme caution and vigilance," the agency said in a statement.
The public should consider rescheduling transactions at the Philippine Consulate located near demonstration sites, and stay tuned to media reports, according to the statement.
Police earlier used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to battle crowds of black-clad demonstrators -- most of them young people and students -- demanding authorities scrap the Beijing-backed law.
The scenes echoed the pro-democracy "Umbrella Movement" of 2014 where protesters calling for greater democratic rights shut down swathes of the city for 2 months and battled police, but won no concessions from Beijing.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is championing the law's passage, described the protests as "organized riots" and called for calm to be restored.
"The rioting actions that damage peaceful society, ignoring law and discipline is unacceptable for any civilized societies," she said in a video statement.
International concern grew with the European Union saying that Hong Kong rights "need to be respected," while US President Donald Trump said he hoped the protesters can "work it out" with Beijing.
Hong Kong has been convulsed by political unrest in recent years as fears surge that Beijing is trying to stamp on the city's unique freedoms and culture.
But Wednesday's violence was an unprecedented escalation of the conflict.
"In terms of the level of violence, today has been the most serious since the 1997 handover," political analyst Dixon Sing told AFP, citing the sustained use of tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds, as well as the willingness of protesters to take on the police.
The proposed law would allow Hong Kong to send suspects to other jurisdictions around the world -- including China.
Hong Kong's leaders say it is needed to plug loopholes and to stop the city being a sanctuary for fugitives. They say safeguards are in place to ensure that political critics of Beijing will not be targeted.
But it is deeply unpopular, with fears people will become entangled in the mainland's opaque courts, leaving them vulnerable to a justice system seen as acting at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party.
Opposition to the bill has united an unusually wide cross-section of the city, from influential businessmen and lawyers, to religious groups, student unions and workers.
With a report from Agence France-Presse