Police in Hong Kong today fired pepper spray, used batons and water cannons to beat back umbrella-wielding protesters who tried to reach the city’s parliament as demonstrations against a controversial extradition bill turned violent.
Clashes broke out shortly after 3pm (0700 GMT) – the deadline protesters had given for the government to abandon a controversial bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent for trial in mainland China.
Protesters using umbrellas as shields could be seen trying to get closer to riot police protecting the Legislative Council building, with projectiles thrown at officers who responded with pepper spray and baton charges.
Earlier in the day, tens of thousands of black-clad demonstrators paralysed central Hong Kong, filling nearby streets and overturning barriers outside government offices where the bill was due for a scheduled debate.
By late morning, with crowds swelling, officials in the Legislative Council said they would delay the second reading of the bill ‘to a later date’.
Tens of thousands of protesters paralysed central Hong Kong today, blocking major roads in a defiant show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. The government said they would delay the second reading of the bill
The overwhelmingly young crowd of demonstrators filled nearby streets, overturned barriers and tussled with police
Protesters overturn barriers outside government offices where the bill was due for a scheduled debate this morning
Protesters using umbrellas as shields could be seen trying to get closer to riot police protecting the Legislative Council building, with projectiles thrown at officers who responded with pepper spray and baton charges
Rows of riot police were far outnumbered by protesters – many who wore face masks, helmets or goggles – just hours ahead of a scheduled debate in the city’s legislature.
In scenes echoing the Occupy movement in 2014 that shut down swathes of the city for months, people flooded major roads and junctions in the heart of the city, dragging barricades onto highways and tying them together.
Some protesters in cars deliberately stopped their vehicles in the middle of one key artery and jumped out, blocking the road.
Police used water cannons and pepper spray on protesters outside the Legco building and held up signs warning demonstrators they were prepared to use force.
Protesters occupy two main highways near the government headquarters in Hong Kong earlier today
In scenes echoing the Occupy movement in 2014 that shut down swathes of the city for months, people flooded major roads and junctions in the heart of the city, dragging barricades onto highways and tying them together
Police officers use a water cannon on a lone protester near the government headquarters in Hong Kong
Organisers of a gigantic march on Sunday said more than a million people turned out to voice their objections to the proposed law, which would allow Hong Kong to send suspects to other jurisdictions around the world – including China
‘Didn’t we say at the end of the Umbrella movement we would be back?’ pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said, referring to the name often used for the 2014 ‘Occupy’ demonstrations.
‘Now we are back!’ she said as supporters echoed her words.
Organisers of a gigantic march on Sunday said more than a million people turned out to voice their objections to the proposed law, which would allow Hong Kong to send suspects to other jurisdictions around the world – including China.
But the record numbers failed to sway pro-Beijing chief executive Carrie Lam, who has rejected calls to withdraw the bill.
Hong Kong has delayed a legislative session on a contentious extradition bill after tens of thousands of protesters amassed near the government’s headquarters
By late morning, with crowds continuing to swell, officials in the Legislative Council said they would delay the second reading of the bill ‘to a later date’
A protester gathers loose bricks to build a barricade during a demonstration against a proposed extradition bill
Matthew Cheung, the city’s chief secretary, called on demonstrators to unblock key arteries and withdraw, in the first official reaction to the latest protests.
‘I also urge citizens who have gathered to show restraint as much as possible, disperse peacefully and do not defy the law,’ he said in a video message today.
Many opponents are fearful the law would entangle people in the mainland’s opaque courts, leaving them vulnerable to a justice system seen as acting at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party.
More than 100 Hong Kong businesses said they would close Wednesday in a sign of solidarity with the protesters, and the city’s major student unions announced they would boycott classes to attend the rally.
A string of other prominent unions in the transport, social work and teaching sectors either followed suit or encouraged members to attend, while a bus driver union said it would encourage members to drive deliberately slowly to support protests.
A government statement said the session of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council that was scheduled to begin at 11am local time today would be ‘changed to a later time’ yet to be decided
Ryan Li, 24, who runs a start-up consulting firm, said all six of his employees have joined the protests.
‘Since we’re a company with quite a few fresh grads, most of us care a lot about this issue. Even though I don’t think the protests will work at all, I believe it’s important that I allow our colleagues embrace who they are and their own beliefs,’ he told MailOnline.
‘It’s the government who has forced people to escalate their actions, so I think it’s inevitable for the fight this time to get heated,’ said protester Lau Ka-chun, 21.
News of the postponed debate did not deter crowds swelling throughout Wednesday.
‘It’s not enough to delay the meeting,’ said student Charles Lee, 23. ‘Stalling is not our ultimate goal. We need them to consider scrapping it… Clashes are unavoidable if they adopt this attitude towards their citizens.’
Large crowds of protesters have gathered in central Hong Kong in a show of strength against the government’s divisive plan to allow extraditions to mainland China
A note from protesters circulating in a Telegram messaging group threatened a series of consequences – including storming the Legco buildings, paralysing public transport, surrounding the houses of cabinet members and continuing to occupy the roads – if the bill is not withdrawn by 3:00 pm (0700 GMT).
Lawmakers had been due to debate the bill on Wednesday morning in the city’s legislature, which is dominated by Beijing loyalists, with a final vote expected on June 20.
It was not announced when the next meeting on the bill would be held.
‘The only responsible thing to do now is for Carrie Lam to withdraw the evil bill, or at least to shelve it in order to solve the crisis,’ said pro-democracy lawmaker Fernando Cheung.
‘Because the situation is very tense, if she forces it through and asks the police to use violence, I’m afraid Hong Kong´s children will be hurt, will bleed.’
Rows of riot police were far outnumbered by protesters – many of whom wore face masks, helmets or goggles
Hong Kong’s leaders say the proposed law is needed to plug loopholes and to stop the city being a sanctuary for fugitives, and that safeguards are in place to ensure that political critics of Beijing will not be targeted.
But many Hong Kongers have little faith in the government’s assurances after years of heightened fears that a resurgent Beijing is trying to quash the city’s unique freedoms and culture — despite a 50-year agreement between Hong Kong’s former colonial ruler, Britain, and China that means the city is guaranteed freedoms unseen on the Chinese mainland.
Western governments have also voiced alarm, with the US this week warning the bill would put people at risk of ‘China’s capricious judicial system’.
Beijing hit back on Tuesday, with a foreign ministry official saying China ‘resolutely opposes interference in Hong Kong affairs’.
Hong Kong’s stock market sank more than 1.8 percent amid the city-wide turmoil, making it the worst performer in Asia on Wednesday.
Why is Hong Kong’s extradition law fueling protests?
Hong Kong’s government has indefinitely delayed the second round of debate on an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial for the first time, after chaotic protests by tens of thousands of people.
Hong Kong residents, as well as foreign and Chinese nationals living or traveling through the global financial hub, would all be at risk if they are wanted on the mainland.
Pro-establishment political forces are dominant in the Legislative Council and the bill is expected to be passed by the end of the month.
WHAT DOES THE EXTRADITION BILL INVOLVE?
Protesters march along a downtown street against the proposed amendments to an extradition law in Hong Kong on Sunday
The Hong Kong government first launched the proposals in February, putting forward sweeping changes that would simplify case-by-case extraditions of criminal suspects to countries beyond the 20 with which Hong Kong has existing extradition treaties.
It explicitly allows extraditions from Hong Kong to greater China – including the mainland, Taiwan and Macau – for the first time, closing what Hong Kong government officials have repeatedly described as a ‘loophole’ that they claim has allowed the city to become a haven for criminals from the mainland.
Hong Kong’s leader would start and finally approve an extradition following a request from a foreign jurisdiction but only after court hearings, including any possible appeals. However, the bill removes Legislative Council oversight of extradition arrangements.
WHY IS THE HONG KONG GOVERNMENT PUSHING IT NOW?
Officials initially seized on the murder last year of a young Hong Kong woman holidaying in Taiwan to justify swift changes. Police say her boyfriend confessed on his return to Hong Kong and he is now in jail on lesser money-laundering charges.
Taiwan authorities have strongly opposed the bill, which they say could leave Taiwanese citizens exposed in Hong Kong and have vowed to refuse taking back the murder suspect if the bill is passed.
A long-forgotten issue, the need for an eventual extradition deal with the mainland was acknowledged by government officials and experts ahead of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under the ‘one country, two systems’ model.
The city maintains a separate and independent legal system as part of the broader freedoms the formula guarantees. Little progress has been made in discreet talks since then with justice and security officials on the mainland, where the Communist Party still controls the courts.
HOW STRONG IS OPPOSITION TO THE BILL?
Protest placards and flowers are displayed during a demonstration in Hong Kong on June 11 to demand authorities scrap a proposed extradition bill with China
Concern about the amendments has spiraled in recent weeks, taking in pro-business and pro-Beijing elements usually loath to publicly contradict the Hong Kong or Chinese governments.
Senior Hong Kong judges have privately expressed alarm, and mainland commercial lawyers based in Hong Kong have echoed their fears, saying the mainland system cannot be trusted to meet even basic standards of judicial fairness. Hong Kong lawyers’ groups have issued detailed submissions to the government, hoping to force a postponement.
Authorities have repeatedly stressed that judges will serve as ‘gatekeepers’ or guardians for extradition requests. However, some judges say privately that China’s increasingly close relationship with Hong Kong and the limited scope of extradition hearings will leave them exposed to criticism and political pressure from Beijing.
Schools, lawyers and church groups have joined human rights groups to protest against the measures. Following a brawl in the legislature over the bill, the government moved to fast-track the bill by scrapping established legislative procedures that stoked outrage amongst critics.
Police officers stand guard outside the Legislative Council building as people protest the extradition bill with China in Hong Kong on the night of June 11
Foreign political and diplomatic pressure over human rights concerns is rising, too. As well as recent statements from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his British and German counterparts, some 11 European Union envoys met Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to protest formally.
‘It’s a proposal, or a set of proposals, which strike a terrible blow … against the rule of law, against Hong Kong’s stability and security, against Hong Kong’s position as a great international trading hub,’ Hong Kong’s last British governor, Chris Patten, said on Thursday.
Some opposition politicians say the issue now represents a turning point for the city’s free status.
WILL THE GOVERNMENT DROP THE BILL?
Lam and her key officials have been strident in defending the bill both publicly and privately, stressing the need for action in the Taiwan murder and the need to plug a loophole.
They also insist broad safeguards mean that anyone at risk of political or religious persecution or who faces torture will not be extradited. Likewise, no one who faces the death penalty will be extradited. China denies accusations of human rights abuses.
While they have raised the threshold to serious crimes only, and excluded nine specific economic offenses, there is no hint yet that they will actually scrap the plan. They have also not announced more extensive consultations given the potentially grave repercussions.
Chinese officials have also now publicly supported the Hong Kong government in the face of diplomatic pressure, saying it has become a sovereign issue.
Some opposition politicians believe the Hong Kong government position is finally wavering, however, and Beijing may allow it to climb down if enough people hit the streets.