18 January 2020
Medical students at the University of Hong Kong hold hands as they form a human chain during a protest against police brutality on Thursday. Photo: Reuters
Medical students at the University of Hong Kong hold hands as they form a human chain during a protest against police brutality on Thursday. Photo: Reuters

More rallies set as bill withdrawal fails to appease protesters

Hong Kong is bracing for more demonstrations this weekend, with protesters threatening to disrupt transport links to the airport as the formal withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill fails to appease some activists.

Protesters plan to block traffic to the international airport in Chek Lap Kok on Saturday, a week after thousands of demonstrators disrupted transport links, which saw some of the worst violence since the unrest escalated three months ago.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel raised Hong Kong with Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Friday, saying a peaceful solution is needed.

“I stressed that the rights and freedoms for [Hong Kong] citizens have to be granted,” Merkel said during her visit.

“In the current situation violence must be prevented. Only dialogue helps. There are signs that Hong Kong’s chief executive will invite such a dialogue. I hope that materializes and that demonstrators have the chance to participate within the frame of citizens’ rights,” she said.

Li told a news conference with Merkel: “The Chinese government unswervingly safeguards ‘one country, two systems’ and ‘Hong Kong people govern Hong Kong people’”.

He said Beijing supported the Hong Kong government “to end the violence and chaos in accordance with the law, to return to order, which is to safeguard Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability”.

The Airport Authority, in a newspaper advert on Friday, urged protesters “not to disrupt the journey of tens of thousands of travelers who use the airport every day”.

In a pre-recorded televised address on Wednesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the extradition bill had been withdrawn, conceding to one of the protesters’ five demands, although many said the move was too little, too late.

The extradition bill, which would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, triggered mass protests that have now evolved into a broader backlash against the Hong Kong government and its political masters in Beijing.

The massive and sometimes violent protests present Chinese President Xi Jinping with his greatest popular challenge since he came to power in 2012.

Many protesters remain angry over Lam’s refusal to establish an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality against protesters. Police have fired tear gas and bean bag rounds at protesters, who in turn have thrown petrol bombs and bricks at police in running battles across the territory.

The protesters’ three other demands are: retraction of the word “riot” to describe rallies, release of all demonstrators arrested and the right for Hong Kong people to choose their own leaders.

Legislation addressing China’s actions in Hong Kong will be among the top priorities pushed by US Senate Democrats when Congress returns to work after a recess next week, their leader said on Thursday. Reuters

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(Updated; last posted at 10:35 a.m)