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China replaces its top official in protest-riven Hong Kong

China replaced its top official in Hong Kong on Saturday, state media said, as anti-government protests in the semi-autonomous territory enter their eighth month.

Luo Huining, the former Communist Party chief for Shanxi province, has been appointed to head China's liaison office in Hong Kong, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

He replaces Wang Zhimin, who had assumed office in September 2017. Xinhua did not give a reason for the change.

A woman walks by a wall sprayed by protest wording by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. The months-long pro-democracy movement has extended into 2020 with further mass demonstrations. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)

The protests, which began in early June, have turned violent at times, with hard-line demonstrators clashing with police. The violence has eased somewhat in the past month, but sporadic clashes have continued.

A huge and largely peaceful march on New Year's Day degenerated into violence as some protesters attacked ATM machines with spray paint and hammers, smashed traffic lights and blocked downtown streets with paving stones ripped from sidewalks.

Police used pepper spray, tear gas and a water cannon to drive off the demonstrators, although a government statement said officers were “deploying the minimum necessary force."

Workers push carts loaded with mandarin orange plants and flowers to their customer passing by a closed shop lot covered with steel panel in Hong Kong, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. City's businesses has been hit badly following the months-long pro-democracy movement has extended into 2020 with further mass demonstrations. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)

The protesters are demanding fully democratic elections for Hong Kong's leader and legislature and an investigation into police use of force to suppress their demonstrations.