Thursday 20 June 2019

Protesters take over city after leader pushes extradition laws

Carrie Lam: 'I have not received any instruction from Beijing to do bill'. Photo: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Carrie Lam: 'I have not received any instruction from Beijing to do bill'. Photo: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Christopher Bodeen

Hong Kong's leader has signalled she will push ahead with a tough new amendment to extradition laws despite a massive protest against them.

Up to one million people shut down the heart of the city, three days before the Legislative Council is slated to take up the bill.

The demonstrations refocused attention on the former British colony, whose residents have long bristled at what many see as efforts by Beijing to tighten control, and dominated newspaper front pages in a city that allows far more freedom of expression than other parts of China.

Chief executive Carrie Lam told reporters the legislation is important and will help Hong Kong uphold justice and fulfil its international obligations. Safeguards added in May will ensure that the legislation protects human rights, she said.

Hong Kong was guaranteed the right to retain its own social, legal and political systems for 50 years under an agreement reached before its 1997 return by Britain to China.

But China's ruling Communist Party has been seen as increasingly reneging on that agreement by pushing through legal changes.

The extradition law amendments would allow Hong Kong to send people to mainland China to face charges, spurring criticism defendants in the Chinese judicial system won't have the same rights as they would in Hong Kong. Opponents contend the legislation could make Hong Kong residents vulnerable to vague national security charges.

Ms Lam said Sunday's protest shows Hong Kong's enduring commitment to its people's freedoms. She denied that she is taking orders from the central government in China's capital.

"I have not received any instruction or mandate from Beijing to do this bill," she said. "We were doing it - and we are still doing it - out of our clear conscience, and our commitment to Hong Kong."

People of all ages took part in the march. Some pushed strollers while others walked with canes, and chanted slogans in favour of greater transparency in government.

The protest that stretched past midnight into yesterday was largely peaceful.

Three officers and one journalist were injured, according to Hong Kong media reports. Authorities said 19 people were arrested in connection with the clashes.

Hong Kong currently limits extraditions to jurisdictions with which it has existing agreements or to others on an individual basis under a law passed before 1997.

China was excluded because of concerns over its poor record on legal independence and human rights.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China firmly backs the proposed amendments and opposes "the wrong words and deeds of any external forces" that interfere in Hong Kong's affairs.

Ms Lam was elected in 2017 by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing Hong Kong elites. Critics have accused her of ignoring widespread opposition to the law amendments.

Irish Independent

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