Hong Kong riot police established a blockade around the city’s legislative complex Wednesday as lawmakers prepared to debate a controversial bill that would make disrespecting China’s national anthem a crime.

Police erected water-filled barriers around the complex to keep away protesters after a call went out the night before to surround the building to derail the proceedings. But thousands of protesters gathered in the city’s business district shouting pro-democracy slogans and insults at police, who fired pepper pellets at the demonstrators to disperse them.

Hong Kong lawmakers are holding a second debate on a bill that calls for anyone who intentionally insults the anthem by booing or any other means, to face up to three years in prison and fines of more than $6,000.

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