Hong Kong police have used tear gas against protesters trying to storm the city’s legislature after tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied against a contentious extradition bill.
- Opponents of the bill say it undermines freedoms guaranteed to the former British colony
- Chief Executive Carrie Lam has vowed to press ahead with the legislation
- The Legislative Council is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority
It came after Hong Kong officials called on protesters to leave the area where huge crowds have been surrounding government headquarters, blocking the entrance to the legislative council and delaying a debate on the proposal.
The second reading of the bill that would allow suspects to face trials in mainland China was due today.
Protesters and police clashed intermittently, with protesters hurling traffic cones and bottles, and police responding with pepper spray.
In a statement read to reporters, Chief Secretary for Administration Mathew Cheung said: “The Hong Kong government calls on people who are blocking roads to … go back to the pavement as soon as possible.
“I would also like to ask the people in this gathering to stay calm and leave the scene as soon as possible and not to commit any crime.”
Protesters have been gathered in and around Lung Wo Road, an important east-west artery near the offices of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, for most of the day as hundreds of riot police warned them not to advance.
The protesters, most of them young people dressed in black, erected barricades as they prepared for an extended occupation of the area, in scenes reminiscent of pro-democracy “Occupy” protests that rocked the city in 2014.
“We won’t leave till they scrap the law,” said one young man wearing a black mask and gloves.
“Carrie Lam has underestimated us. We won’t let her get away with this.”
Embattled leader Ms Lam has insisted she would press ahead with the controversial legislation despite deep concerns in the Asian financial hub, including among business leaders, that it could undermine freedoms and investor confidence, and erode its competitive advantages.
Opposition to the bill on Sunday triggered Hong Kong’s biggest political demonstration since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
The bill was due for a second round of debate in Hong Kong’s 70-seat Legislative Council, which is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.
The Government said debate on the bill that was due to take place in the city’s 70-seat Legislative Council would be delayed until further notice.
The legislature is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.
Human rights groups have repeatedly said the law should not go ahead due to the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions and forced confessions in China, where courts are controlled by the Communist Party.
China has denied accusations that it tramples on human rights.
Businesses across the city went on strike on Wednesday in protest against the bill, while teachers and students also walked out and transport go-slows were in place.
HSBC and Standard Chartered banks, in addition to the Big Four accounting firms, had all agreed to flexible work arrangements for staff, Hong Kong media reported.
The Catholic and Protestant churches in Hong Kong both also spoke out against the bill.
In addition to the snowballing backlash, Sunday’s protest — which organisers said saw more than a million people take to the streets — could also raise questions about Ms Lam’s ability to govern effectively.
Many of the protesters defied police calls to retreat and passed provisions, including medical supplies, goggles, water and food among each other.
Opposition politician Hui Chi-fung said he did not expect a repeat of the 2014 protests but highlighted anger in Hong Kong toward what many people in the city see as increasing efforts by Beijing to control the city and stifle its democracy.
“I don’t consider today’s protest an Occupy movement,” he said.
“Young people here in the crowd are here only to voice out their anger at the Government forcing to pass the extradition bill.”
Britain handed Hong Kong back to China 22 years ago under a “one-country, two-systems” formula, with guarantees that its autonomy and freedoms, including an independent justice system, would be protected.
However, many accuse China of extensive meddling since then, including obstruction of democratic reforms, interference with local elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialised in works critical of Chinese leaders.
Beijing rejects those accusations and Chinese media this week said “foreign forces” were trying to damage China by creating chaos over the extradition bill.