Nearly 2 Million Join in HK Protests 06/17 06:30
HONG KONG (AP) -- Protesters cleared out of Hong Kong's streets Monday,
averting possible clashes with police, but stayed near government headquarters
to press their demands that the city's leader resign and abandon an extradition
bill that stoked fears of Beijing's expanding control.
The demonstrators took shelter from rain in a covered plaza outside the
Legislative Council. Their decision to move there allowed police to reopen
streets to traffic.
The activists have rejected an apology from Chief Executive Carrie Lam for
her handling of the legislation. Organizers said nearly 2 million Hong Kong
residents, young and old, joined a march that lasted late into the night.
"We are very angry that Carrie Lam has not responded to the demands of all
the protesters, but now is the time to talk about strategy, and talk about
strategy is about how to make the whole struggle into a long-term struggle and
not a day struggle, so if Carrie Lam does not respond to the demands by the
protesters, people will come back and the struggle will continue," Lee
Cheuk-yan, a former legislator and activist, said Monday.
Shortly after daybreak, the police asked for cooperation in clearing the
road but said the protesters could stay on the sidewalks. The protesters, many
in masks and other gear to guard against possible use of tear gas, argued with
police for a time but eventually relented.
The uproar over the extradition bill highlights worries that the former
British colony is losing the special autonomous status it was promised when
China took control in 1997.
On June 9, a week earlier, as many as 1 million people demonstrated to
express their concern over Hong Kong's relations with mainland China.
The scenes have been similar to those nearly five years earlier, when
protesters camped for weeks in the streets to protest rules that prevented the
direct election of the city's chief executive.
One of the activists arrested after those demonstrations, Joshua Wong, was
released from prison on Monday after serving half of a two-month sentence on a
contempt charge. He headed to join protesters gathered near Hong Kong's
government headquarters soon afterward, and also called in a tweet for Lam to
resign and for a halt to "all political persecutions."
The night before, as protesters reached the march's end, thousands gathered
outside the city government headquarters and the office of Chief Executive Lam,
who on Saturday suspended her effort to force passage of the bill.
Hong Kong residents worry that allowing suspects to be sent for trial in
mainland China would be another of many steps chipping away at Hong Kong's
freedoms and legal autonomy. One concern is that the law might be used to send
critics of Communist Party rule to the mainland to face vague political
charges, possible torture and unfair trials.
The protesters are demanding that Lam scrap the proposal for good and that
she step down.
Protesters are also angered over the police use of tear gas, rubber bullets
and other forceful measures as demonstrators broke through barricades outside
the city government's headquarters during demonstrations on Wednesday, and over
Lam's decision to call the clashes a riot. That worsens the potential legal
consequences for those involved.
In a statement issued late Sunday, Lam noted the demonstrations and said the
government "understands that these views have been made out of love and care
for Hong Kong."
"The chief executive apologizes to the people of Hong Kong for this and
pledges to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and
make improvements in serving the public," it said.
Not enough, said the pro-democracy activists.
"This is a total insult to and fooling the people who took to the street!"
the Civil Human Rights Front said in a statement.
Protesters have mainly focused their anger on Lam, who had little choice but
to carry through dictates issued by Beijing, where President Xi Jinping has
enforced increasingly authoritarian rule. Some were skeptical that having Lam
step down would help.
"It doesn't really matter because the next one would be just as evil," said
Kayley Fung, 27.
Many here believe Hong Kong's legal autonomy has been significantly
diminished despite Beijing's insistence that it is still honoring its promise,
dubbed "one country, two systems," that the territory can retain its own
social, legal and political system for 50 years after the handover from Britain
After Lam announced she was suspending the legislation to avoid more
violence and allow additional debate, Chinese government officials issued
multiple statements backing that decision. Lam made clear she was not
She has sidestepped questions over whether she should quit and also defended
how the police dealt with last week's clashes.
Lam insists the extradition legislation is needed if Hong Kong is to uphold
justice, meet its international obligations and not become a magnet for
fugitives. The proposed bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect
transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.
So far, China has been excluded from Hong Kong's extradition agreements
because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record.
Prosecutions of activists, detentions without trial of five Hong Kong book
publishers and the illegal seizure in Hong Kong by mainland agents of at least
one mainland businessman are among moves in recent years that have unnerved
many in the city of 7 million.