News ID: 254195
Published: 0552 GMT June 13, 2019

Thousands of Hong Kong protesters gather, government offices shut after violence

Thousands of Hong Kong protesters gather, government offices shut after violence

Thousands of protesters readied in Hong Kong on Thursday for more potential clashes with police over a planned extradition law with mainland China, a day after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed demonstrators.

Small scuffles broke out between police and demonstrators around the city’s legislature, the epicenter of the violence, while some protesters rushed to stop police from removing supplies of face masks and food, Reuters.com reported.

Uniformed police with helmets and shields blocked overhead walkways, while a long row of police vans was parked nearby. Plainclothes police officers checked commuters’ identity papers.

Schoolchildren joined the steadily growing crowd, which swelled to a few thousand by midday, from around 20 early in the day.

The extradition bill, which will cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or traveling through the city, has sparked concerns it may threaten the rule of law that underpins Hong Kong’s international financial status.

The legislature remained closed, with the council issuing a notice that the group’s meeting would not be held on Thursday.

Authorities have shut government offices in the financial district for the rest of the week after some of the worst violence in Hong Kong since Britain handed it back to Chinese rule in 1997.

On Wednesday, police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray in a series of skirmishes to clear demonstrators from the legislature, with officials saying 72 people had been admitted to hospital by 10 p.m.

It was the third night of violence since a protest on Sunday drew what organizers said was more than a million people in the biggest street demonstration since the 1997 handover.

Several thousand demonstrators stayed until the early hours of morning near the legislature in the Admiralty district, while thousands more retreated to the Central business district, overlooked by the towers of some of Asia’s biggest firms and hotel chains, including HSBC and AIA.

Hong Kong’s benchmark stock exchange slid as much as 1.5 percent on Thursday, extending losses from the previous day.

Hong Kong’s China-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned the violence late on Wednesday and urged a swift restoration of order.

While acknowledging the controversy, Lam has refused to postpone or withdraw the bill, which she and her officials say is necessary to plug “loopholes” that allow the city to be a haven for criminals wanted on the mainland.

Lam has said the courts would provide human rights safeguards in vetting case-by-case extraditions to mainland China.

Opponents, including leading lawyers and rights groups, say China’s justice system is marked by torture and forced confessions, arbitrary detention and poor access to lawyers.

In an impromptu media standup in the legislature, democratic lawmakers strongly criticized Lam’s heavy-handed police response.

In editorials on Thursday, Chinese state media said the protests were “hammering” Hong Kong’s reputation.

Concern over the unrest prompted Hong Kong’s Tourism Board to call off its dragon boat carnival this weekend and index provider MSCI to cancel a Thursday conference at a hotel near the skirmishes.

Amnesty International joined domestic rights groups in condemning Wednesday’s use of police force as excessive, while a spokeswoman for the U.N. Human Rights Office in Geneva said it was following the situation closely.

Diplomatic pressure was also building after leaders such as British Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump commented on the protests.

The European Union said it shared many Hong Kong citizens’ concerns over the proposed extradition reforms and urged an in-depth public consultation.

 

 

   
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