Hong Kong postpones extradition bill reading as protesters blockade government headquarters


Hong Kong authorities postponed the second reading of a controversial bill allowing extradition to mainland China on Wednesday as tens of thousands of protesters blockaded government headquarters.

In scenes reminiscent of the Umbrella Movement that brought the city to a standstill in 2014, thousands of demonstrators stormed a key road next to Hong Kong’s government offices to protest against the proposed legislation.

The protesters gathered in and around Lung Wo Road, an important east-west artery near the offices of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, as hundreds of riot police warned them to stop advancing.

Five years after pro-democracy protesters rocked the city, protesters once again erected barricades to block traffic in the heart of the Asian financial centre, with many defying police calls to retreat.

Police used pepper spray on protesters  – many wearing face masks, helmets or goggles – at the legislative council building and held up signs warning demonstrators they were prepared to use force if the crowds didn’t stop charging.

Protesters march along a road demonstrating against a proposed extradition bill in Hong Kong Credit: Reuters

Ms Lam said she would press ahead with the controversial legislation, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, despite deep concerns across the Asian financial hub that triggered on Sunday its biggest political demonstration since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Demonstrators from across a wide spectrum of Hong Kong society began joining the overnight protesters earlier on Wednesday as businesses across the city prepared to go on strike.

The bill, which has generated unusually broad opposition at home and abroad, had been scheduled for a second round of debate on Wednesday in Hong Kong’s 70-seat Legislative Council.

But, with crowds continuing to swell, officials in the Legislative Council (Legco) said they would delay the second reading of the bill “to a later date”.

“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.”

Protesters demonstrate against a proposed extradition bill in Hong Kong Credit: Reuters

Some lawmakers played down comparisons to the Umbrella Movement of 2014.

Opposition lawmaker Hui Chi-fung said he did not expect a repeat of the mass protests that paralysed the city.

“I don’t consider today’s protest an Occupy movement,” Hui said. “Young people here in the crowd are here only to voice out their anger at the government forcing to pass the extradition bill.”

Lam has sought to soothe public concerns and said her administration was creating additional amendments to the bill, including safeguarding human rights.

In a rare move, prominent business leaders warned that pushing through the extradition law could undermine investor confidence in Hong Kong and erode its competitive advantages.

Sunday’s protest, which organisers said saw more than a million people take to the streets, in addition to a snowballing backlash against the extradition bill could raise questions about Lam’s ability to govern effectively.

Protesters rallied just a stone’s throw from the heart of the financial centre where glittering skyscrapers house the offices of some of the world’s biggest companies, including HSBC.

Strikes and transport go-slows were also announced for Wednesday as businesses, students, bus drivers, social workers, teachers and other groups all vowed to protest in a last-ditch effort to block the bill.

The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong called on the government not to pass the bill “hurriedly” and urged all Christians to pray for the former British colony.

Demonstrators gather to show opposition to amendments to extradition law in Hong Kong Credit: Rex

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 official Chinese media said this week “foreign forces” were trying to damage China by creating chaos over the extradition bill.



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