Friday 19 July 2019

Hong Kong police HQ blocked

Demonstrators dig heels in as demands over extradition bill unmet

People power: A protester holds eggs to throw at police as thousands surround the police headquarter in Hong Kong. Photo: Paula Bronstein
People power: A protester holds eggs to throw at police as thousands surround the police headquarter in Hong Kong. Photo: Paula Bronstein

Raf Wober

More than 1,000 protesters blocked Hong Kong police headquarters last night while others took over major streets as the tumult over the city's future showed no signs of abating.

The latest protest came after a deadline passed the previous day for the government to meet demands over highly unpopular extradition bills that many see as eroding the territory's judicial independence.

Police called for the demonstrators to disperse but did not take firm action to remove them.

While the protest began peacefully, the presence again of demonstrators on busy Harcourt Road and in the lobby of the Revenue Tower raised the possibility of violent confrontations.

"I now appeal to the members of the public to leave as soon as possible," police spokeswoman Yolanda Yu said at a news conference.

Outside, activist Joshua Wong called on police to answer demands over heavy-handed tactics used during a June 12 protest, including the firing of tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds, and the beating of unarmed protesters.

"We... urge police to apologise to the people" over the use of such tactics and their labelling of the gathering as a riot, Mr Wong said.

Protest leaders have said they are determined to keep up the pressure on Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who has shelved but not abandoned the extradition legislation.

She has insisted the bills are needed to uphold justice, but critics see them as part of a campaign by Beijing to diminish Hong Kong's democratic institutions.

"I myself am not the type to get involved in violence," student protester Brian Chow said. "I'll just carry on sitting here, sing some Christian hymns, show our resistance, and keep the government paralysed until it responds to us."

Another student, who would only give her first name, Yvonne, said she was determined to maintain the movement's momentum.

"I'm going to carry on coming out, and carry on protesting," she said.

Many protesters have been wary of giving their full names and have hidden their faces.

Government offices were ordered closed yesterday "due to security considerations," and Legislative Council hearings were suspended.

Since the confrontations on June 12, police have eased their approach, hoping to avoid a replay of 2014 protests. Then, officers unleashed 87 rounds of tear gas at protesters, who returned in greater numbers and stayed for three months.

The bills would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include mainland China, Taiwan and Macau.

Legal and business groups in Hong Kong oppose the legislation, saying critics of China's ruling Communist Party would be at risk of torture and unfair trials on the mainland and that it further chips away at the "one country, two systems" framework under which Hong Kong has been governed since 1997.

The Communist Party under Chinese President Xi Jinping has been pushing ever more aggressively to quiet independent voices in Hong Kong.

Beijing has quashed all reporting on the protests in mainland media and accused foreign forces of stirring up disturbances in Hong Kong.

Opposition to the legislation has come from a broad range of civic, human rights, legal profession and commercial organisations.

On Friday, the Hong Kong Bar Association reiterated its criticisms, saying Ms Lam's decision to suspend but not withdraw the bill was "wholly unsatisfactory".

The association also called for the setting up of an independent commission to investigate the June 12 violence.

Amnesty International went a step further, saying police must "end the unlawful use of force against peaceful protesters," and issuing a report documenting 14 incidents of apparent police violence on June 12.

Irish Independent

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