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Police fire tear gas at Hong Kong protesters amid clashes over extradition plans

Black-clad demonstrators, most of them young people and students, have surrounded government offices.

Policemen in anti-riot gear stand watch as protesters use umbrellas to shield themselves.
Policemen in anti-riot gear stand watch as protesters use umbrellas to shield themselves.
Image: Vincent Yu/PA Images

Updated Jun 12th 2019, 9:13 AM

VIOLENT CLASHES HAVE broken out in Hong Kong as police tried to stop protesters storming the city’s parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China.

Police used tear gas, pepper spray and batons to disperse crowds of black-clad demonstrators — most of them young people and students — calling for authorities to scrap the Beijing-backed law.

Clashes broke out shortly after 3:00 pm (8am Irish time) — the deadline protesters had given for the government to abandon the controversial bill.

Black-clad demonstrators, most of them young people and students, had surrounded government offices, bringing traffic to a standstill as they called on authorities to scrap the Beijing-backed plan.

Rows of riot police were far outnumbered by protesters — many of whom wore face masks, helmets or goggles — just hours ahead of a scheduled debate in the city’s legislature.

By late morning, 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”.

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 plucked loose bricks from pavements.

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.

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.

Source: Guardian News/YouTube

But the record numbers have failed to sway pro-Beijing chief executive Carrie Lam, who has rejected calls to withdraw the bill.

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 today in a sign of solidarity with the protesters, and the city’s major student unions announced they would boycott classes to attend the rallies.

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 drivers’ union said it would encourage members to drive deliberately slowly to support protests.

Stocks on Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index fell 1.59%, or 440.82 points, to 27,348.52, making it the worst performer in Asia yesterday.

Taiwan Hong Kong Extradition Law Taiwanese people gather to support the protests in Hong Kong. Source: PA Images

“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 protestor Lau Ka-chun, 21.

‘Hong Kong’s children will hurt’

Overnight, a group of around 2,000 protesters held a vigil outside the government offices, with some singing hymns.

Hardline protesters had on Sunday made similar plans to spend the night but were prevented by police, who fought running battles with small groups of demonstrators.

Throughout yesterday evening, police flooded the area around the government offices, stopping and searching many young people as they arrived in the area.

Lawmakers were to debate the bill this morning in the city’s legislature, which is dominated by Beijing loyalists. A final vote is expected on 20 June.

“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.”

Hong Kong’s leaders say it 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.

Hong Kong Extradition Law A man waves a British flag as policemen in anti-riot gear stand guard. Source: Vincent Yu/PA Images

A 50-year agreement between Hong Kong’s former colonial ruler, Britain, and China theoretically means the city is guaranteed freedoms of speech and assembly unseen on the Chinese mainland.

The pastor of a usually pro-government mega-church issued a statement saying he could not support the bill while the Catholic diocese urged Lam — a devout Catholic — to delay the bill.

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, with a foreign ministry official saying China “resolutely opposes interference in Hong Kong affairs”.

© – AFP 2019

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