Tens of thousands of demonstrators surrounded the Legislative Council on Wednesday, forcing the lawmakers to postpone deliberation on a highly contentious bill amending the extradition law.
The activists, who fear the proposal would allow dissidents to be sent to mainland China for trial, camped out in the Legco area overnight, and as the crowds swelled, occupied Lung Wo Road and Harcourt Road in the morning, paralyzing traffic and business activities in the area, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The protest recalls the pro-democracy Occupy Movement that crippled major streets in Hong Kong in 2014.
Many of the protesters were young people wearing masks and black shirts. News videos show several of them moving road barriers and using them to block the thoroughfares, while some stockpiled bricks broken away from the pavements.
In a post on their official Facebook page, police said private vehicles were found to have been parked in the middle of the road at United Centre and Lippo Centre in Admiralty in an obvious bid to block vehicular traffic. Police called on motorists to avoid the affected areas.
In another social media post, police warned protesters not to throw bricks, saying such an act would cause serious bodily harm and even lead to fatalities, which is a serious crime.
Legco was scheduled to hold a full council meeting at 11 a.m. on Wednesday for the second reading of the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019.
But at around 11 a.m., the government issued a press release on behalf of the Legco secretariat, saying under Rules of Procedure 14(3), the Legco president has directed that the council meeting be changed to a later time. Lawmakers will be notified of the new schedule later.
Pan-democratic lawmakers, who are opposed to the bill, told media they were asking Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to retract the extradition bill as soon as possible by Wednesday.
In a recorded video downloaded on the government’s Facebook page (govnews.hk), Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung appealed to the protesters occupying the roads to keep their heads cool, exercise restraint and return to the pavements as soon as possible so that traffic could return to normal.
HSBC and Standard Chartered, in addition to the Big Four accounting firms, had all agreed to flexible work arrangements for staff on Wednesday, according to local reports.
Standard Chartered and Bank of East Asia suspended operations at some branches in the area.
Carrie Lam defiant
Demonstrators from across a wide spectrum of Hong Kong society began joining overnight protests earlier on Wednesday as businesses across the city prepared to go on strike.
Lam has sought to soothe public concerns and said her administration was creating additional amendments to the bill, including safeguarding human rights.
A massive protest on Sunday, which organizers 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.
Opposition lawmaker Hui Chi-fung said he did not expect a repeat of the 2014 protests that 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,” 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.”
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 specialized 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.
A spokesman for bourse operator Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEx) said a cocktail reception on Wednesday to celebrate 19 years of being listed, at which Lam is guest of honor, would go ahead.
The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong called on the government not to pass the bill “hurriedly” and urged Christians to pray for the city. Lam, who warned against “radical action” at the latest protest, is a Catholic.
Human rights groups have repeatedly cited the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions, forced confessions and problems accessing lawyers in China, where courts are controlled by the Communist Party, as reasons why the Hong Kong bill should not proceed.
China denies accusations that it tramples on human rights. With a Reuters report
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