Despite the strength-sapping heat, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in Hong Kong on Monday, as the city marked the 22nd anniversary of its return to China, demanding not only the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill but also more democracy.
Organizer Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) said 550,000 people joined the annual march, while police estimated the crowd at 190,000 at the peak, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, which officially spun off into an independent organization from the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong on Monday, said about 160,000 to 200,000 people participated in the march as it passed under the footbridge on Percival Street and about 300,000 to 370,000 people passed under the footbridge on Arsenal Street, from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The protesters sought the complete scrapping of the controversial legislation, which would allow extradition to mainland China, following two massive rallies on June 9 and 16.
They also demanded that the government relaunch the constitutional reform to allow genuine universal suffrage.
They also want the government to recall its categorization of the clashes between police and protesters in Admiralty on June 12 as a riot and to release those arrested during the clashes.
The march, which began at Victoria Park’s central lawn in Causeway Bay, was originally planned to end at the Legislative Council complex on Tim Mei Avenue, but police urged organizers to proceed to Southorn Playground in Wan Chai instead, hold the rally at Victoria Park or reschedule it for another day because some radical protesters had started to storm the legislature in the morning and this might pose risks to the marchers.
The CHRF rejected the police request and decided instead to end the rally at Charter Road in Central.
As the crowd reached the Pacific Place in Admiralty, many young people urged the marchers to head to the Legco complex to support the demonstrators there, causing the procession to split.
In a statement on Monday night, the government said “the procession was conducted in a peaceful and rational manner”, adding that it “always respects the public’s freedoms and rights of assembly, procession and expression.”
“The government clearly understands that members of the public have concerns and doubts about the proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, and has put a stop to the legislative amendment exercise. The bill will lapse after the current term of the Legislative Council ends in July next year,” a government spokesman said.
The spokesman also reiterated that the government had never taken a view on the nature of the confrontation on June 12, and irrespective of how an incident is defined by any person, it would not affect the Department of Justice in discharging its prosecutorial duties impartially.
Also on Monday, 24 pan-democratic lawmakers and the CHRF issued a joint statement saying that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had rejected their request to meet with her to resolve the political crisis.
The lawmakers said the rejection showed that Lam’s vow to listen to public opinions is a lie.
Speaking at an RTHK news program, Philip Dykes, chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, urged protesters storming the Legco building to stop and disperse while calling on peaceful demonstrators to stay away from violent scenes.
Dykes also asked the government to respond to the demonstrators’ demands and enhance communication with them to stop violence from spiraling.
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