Protesters Swell in the Streets of Hong Kong Calling for Leader to ResignBloomberg
Organizers pressed ahead with a march Sunday afternoon, following the same route as last week’s demonstration, when hundreds of thousands filed for hours through the center of the city. They are demanding that Chief Executive Carrie Lam resign and have vowed to continue taking to the streets until the bill is withdrawn.
Peaceful crowds dressed largely in black had filled Victoria Park around the 2:30 p.m. gathering time called by organizers, and began marching toward Hong Kong’s Legislative Council building. One sign read: “Help Hong Kong. R.I.P.” Others chanted one word: “Retract.” Many carried umbrellas, which have been used as protection from pepper spray fired by police in past protests. Marchers in black also walked toward the police headquarters in Admiralty, ground zero for clashes earlier this week between demonstrators and police.
“Our demands are clear and firm,” Jimmy Sham, one of the main protest leaders, said as he addressed the crowd. Among his calls were for the bill’s withdrawal, the retraction of Lam’s characterization of protesters as rioters, and her resignation.
Opposition politician Claudia Mo, who’s been outspoken throughout the extradition standoff and attended Sunday’s protest, called the suspension “just a postponement.”
“The plan is just being delayed. It’s not the matter of what, it’s a matter of when. So I am coming out,” she said.
Lam referred to the protesters as rioters after a Wednesday demonstration sparked clashes with authorities that left more than 80 people hurt. Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to dispel protesters trying to enter the main legislative building.
Lam’s decision to suspend the bill was a stunning climb-down on her government’s legislative centerpiece, which was backed by authorities in Beijing. The measure would let Hong Kong extradite fugitives facing jail sentences of more than seven years to mainland China, Macau and Taiwan. Opponents fear the legislation would erode the legal wall separating the city’s justice system from the mainland and allow Beijing to target its political enemies.
The first casualty of the demonstrations was reported on Saturday. A man who held a protest banner for hours over a roadway in the central district of Admiralty fell to his death, the Hong Kong Free Press reported. A memorial is due to be held Sunday during the protests.
Murder in Taiwan
The proposed legislation was initially prompted by a murder case in Taiwan, Lam said. A Hong Kong man killed his 19-year-old girlfriend and admitted to the murder after returning to Hong Kong. Lam said Saturday that she would now have to tell the victim’s family that the man may not be extradited for the crime. The bill was also aimed at preventing Hong Kong from becoming “a haven” for mainland criminals, she said.
“This bill has very laudable objectives not only domestically but also internationally,” Lam said Saturday in announcing her decision. “The enactment of this bill will help to raise Hong Kong’s international profile and also demonstrate that we are a place with excellent rule of law, not only for our own citizens but also in contribution to the combating of serious crimes for the transnational basis.”
Lam’s move was “equivalent to a withdrawal,” lawmaker Regina Ip, a member of the city’s Executive Council, told television channel TVB. “It’s just that the government doesn’t want to use the term withdrawal.”
While Beijing expressed repeated support for the proposal, several Western governments raised concern that it undermines the “one country, two systems” framework that guaranteed free speech, capitalist markets and independent courts in Hong Kong after its 1997 return. U.S. lawmakers had threatened to reconsider the city’s special status that supported $38 billion in trade last year.
Lam, who took office two years ago promising to heal divisions exposed by the mass Occupy protests in 2014 and the emergence of a small but assertive independence, expressed remorse that the proposal had become so controversial. She said the government should focus on improving people’s livelihoods while attempting to build support for the extradition bill.— With assistance by Fion Li, Tracy Alloway, Stephen Engle, Chloe Whiteaker, Elaine To, and Stanley James