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China releases U.K. consulate worker Simon Cheng as Hong Kong protest turns violent

Tens of thousands of people have been holding regular protests in Hong Kong since June.
Protesters react to tear gas fired by police at Kowloon Bay in Hong Kong on Saturday.ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP - Getty Images

HONG KONG — A man who works for Britain's consulate in Hong Kong was released by Chinese authorities on Saturday after being detained at the border with the semi-autonomous territory earlier this month.

Simon Cheng Man-Kit was detained in the border city of Shenzhen while trying to return to Hong Kong from a business trip in mainland China on Aug. 8.

His family thanked supporters for their concern in a Facebook post on Saturday.

"He has returned to Hong Kong safely, and is in the company of Consulate staff and friends," the post said.

Simon Cheng, a staff member of Britain's consulate in Hong Kong, who was reported missing by local media after visiting the neighbouring mainland city of Shenzhen.Facebook / Reuters

The family didn't provide details about what triggered his arrest and asked for privacy while he rests following the ordeal.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said earlier this week that Cheng would be held for 15 days by Shenzhen police but didn't specify what law he was suspected of violating. Police said on Saturday that Cheng had violated public security management regulations, but provided no additional details.

His arrest triggered protests outside the British Consulate in Hong Kong on Wednesday. His supporters also posted a petition online calling on the U.K. government to "mobilise all efforts to save Simon."

Cheng works for the Scottish Development International unit with the consulate. After earlier expressing concern for his welfare, the government applauded his release.

"We welcome the release of Simon Cheng and are delighted that he can be reunited with his family. We will continue to provide support to them," a spokesman for Britain's foreign ministry said on Saturday.

Cheng's arrest came amid rising tensions between Hong Kong and mainland China, with widespread fear that rights and freedoms are being eroded under Beijing's rule of the territory.

Police fired teargas on Saturday to disperse protesters who filled the streets of Kwun Tong, an eastern district on the Kowloon peninsula of Hong Kong. Demonstrators had built a barricade across a street near a police station and dismantled security cameras in the area.

It was the latest incident in a series of regular protests that have seen up to 2 million people take to the streets of Hong Kong since June.

What began as a peaceful repudiation of a controversial extradition bill that would allow suspected criminals to be handed over to China has turned into a series of increasingly violent demonstrations in recent weeks, including clashes with police.

Demonstrators are calling for greater democratic freedoms, the resignation of the territory's chief executive Carrie Lam, and an investigation into what they say is excessive use of force by police.

Hong Kong is a former British colony and although it became a special administrative region of China in 1997, the territory's 7 million residents can freely surf the internet and participate in public protests, unlike those living in the mainland.

Paul Goldman reported from Hong Kong, and Linda Givetash from London.

Reuters contributed.