BEIJING - China has issued a strong warning to Hong Kong's protesters, saying their attempts "to play with fire will only backfire".

A spokesman for China's top policy office in Hong Kong told protesters not to "underestimate the firm resolve [of] the central government".

Anti-China forces are the "behind-the-scenes masterminds" of violence in the city, the spokesman claimed.

Hong Kong has seen nine consecutive weekends of anti-government protests.

On Monday, the city's leader Carrie Lam warned that it was "on the verge of a very dangerous situation".

In her first media address in two weeks, she also accused activists of using the extradition bill as a cover for their real goals.

The protests, first sparked by a controversial extradition bill, show no sign of abating after more than two months of demonstrations.

A city-wide strike on Monday crippled transport services and brought the city to a standstill.

Protests later took place in several districts, with police firing tear gas at demonstrators who rallied into the night, setting fires and besieging police stations.

The rallies began with fears over a proposed bill that would allow suspected criminals to be sent to mainland China to face trial.

Critics said it would undermine Hong Kong's judicial independence and could be used to target those who spoke out against the Chinese government.

Though the bill has now been suspended, demonstrators want it fully withdrawn - and have broadened their demands to include an independent inquiry into alleged
police brutality, an amnesty for protesters accused of rioting, and the resignation of Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam.

The protests have become a wider challenge to Beijing's authority - and a reflection of the anxiety some Hong Kongers feel about the terms of its handover to China.
(FA)