Hong Kong police clear streets as protesters move to park
Protesters in Hong Kong have left the streets, averting possible clashes on Monday after haggling for hours with police by moving to areas near the city's government headquarters.
The demonstrators who stayed after a massive protest march the day before, demanding that Chief Executive Carrie Lam abandon a proposed extradition bill, were seen this morning streaming into a space outside Hong Kong's Legislative Council after police who had cleared it reopened the area.
Their decision to move allowed police to reopen streets to traffic.
The activists have rejected an apology from Ms Lam for her handling of the legislation, which has stoked fears of expanding control from Beijing in this former British colony.
"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 to how 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 five demands by the protesters, people will come back and the struggle will continue," said Lee Cheuk-yan, a former legislator and activist.
Shortly after daybreak, the police had asked for cooperation in clearing the road, but said the protesters could stay on the sidewalks.
For a time, the protesters, many in masks and other gear to guard against possible use of tear gas, responded with chants, some kneeling in front of the officers.
Hundreds were lying or sitting on the roads until they agreed to move to the plaza outside the government building and a spacious nearby park.
Activists had called on Hong Kong residents to boycott classes and work, though it was unclear how many might heed that call.
Nearly two million of the city's seven million people turned out on Sunday, according to estimates by protest organisers.
Police said 338,000 were counted on the designated protest route in the "peak period" of the march.
A week earlier as many as one million people demonstrated to voice their concern over Hong Kong's relations with mainland China in one of the toughest tests of the territory's special status since Beijing took control in 1997 after Britain handed the city over.
The scenes were similar to those seen 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, the top local official.
One of the activists arrested after those demonstrations, Joshua Wong, was released from prison on Monday after serving half of a two-month jail sentence for contempt.
He told journalists he needed a bit of time but, "No matter what happens, I will join the protest soon."
After daybreak on Monday, police announced that they want to clear the streets. Soon after, police lined up several officers deep and faced off against several hundred demonstrators on a street in central Hong Kong.
The night before, as protesters reached the march's end thousands gathered outside the city government headquarters and the office of Ms Lam, who on Saturday suspended her effort to force passage of the bill.
Hong Kong residents worry that allowing some 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 criminal suspects to China to potentially face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials.
The protesters are demanding that Ms Lam scrap the proposal for good and that she step down.
Protesters are also angered over the forceful tactics by police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other forceful measures as demonstrators broke through barricades outside the city government's headquarters to quell unrest during demonstrations on Wednesday, and over Ms Lam's decision to call the clashes a riot.
That worsens the potential legal consequences for those involved.
In a statement issued late on Sunday, Ms 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 apologises 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.