June 16, 2019
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Massive protests in Hong Kong delay extradition bill debate

By Mar Sanchez-Cascado

Hong Kong, Jun 12 (efe-epa).- A sea of people remained out on the streets of Hong Kong on Wednesday as police used pepper spray to push back against angry demonstrators, protesting against an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters surrounded the city’s legislature that forced the Legislative Council to postpone the second debate on the controversial bill.

But the tense standoff on the streets continued unabated as the area around the Legislative Council was cordoned off by riot police as demonstrators – mostly young men and women – shouted anti-government slogans.

Many of the protesters were wearing masks to hide their facial identity and also protect themselves from the pepper spray used by the police to disperse them.

Photos published by South China Morning Post showed the demonstrators picking bricks from the sidewalks as they clashed with the police, intensifying the tension over the contentious extradition legislation.

Until Wednesday afternoon no serious clashes were reported even as police kept warning the protesters to stop from charging towards them.

Many of the protesters were forced to leave the site after police fired pepper spray as ambulances were seen heading towards the crowds.

The police were still trying to evacuate the site and escort lawmakers who had come to the legislature for a second reading of the disputed bill, which would allow Hong Kong to process case-by-case extradition requests from mainland China, Taiwan and Macao and without direct legislative supervision.

"Our company works with many foreign companies and it is very important for Hong Kong to keep the ‘one country, two system’ principle," Crystal Lee, a protester, told EFE.

Lee said the principle allows the city to enjoy freedom of expression, of assembly, free press, internet without censorship and a secured judicial system until its integration into China.

“The rule of law is one of HK’s biggest ‘selling points’ to persuade foreign companies to invest in the city,” Lee noted.

Another Hong Kong resident, Patrick L, who works in the airlines - one of the sectors that announced a strike to protest against the bill, said that "we want to join the strike but we fear to be fired from our jobs”.

Meanwhile, a Spaniard living in Hong Kong, Pilar Aguilera Cacho was convinced that "it is a lost battle" because “Beijing would end up taking total control” of the semi-autonomous region.

"But if one gives up the fight, then there will no longer be a hope," she said.

"Certainly, it seems a big blow to the autonomy of Hong Kong. It worries me that Beijing would use it to threaten and persecute its opponents here,” Aguilera added.

In posters flashed on Wednesday, some protesters denounced that the police was defending Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam when they should be doing their duty to protect protesters.

The President of the Legislative Council, Andrew Leung decided to postpone the council meeting scheduled for Wednesday to a later time.

The controversial bill which was proposed in February is expected to be put to a final vote on Jun. 20.

Once approved, the local courts will be able to review cases of such nature individually and use veto power to stop certain extraditions, although the Hong Kong Executive insists that the text intends to fill a legal void.

Official Chinese newspaper, Global Times, in an editorial, said the protests were carried out by "extreme Hong Kong separatists" who are acting under "powerful interference from foreign forces, especially the US”.

"The violent incident has brought heavy criticism from different groups in Hong Kong, since this has seriously harmed the stability and prosperity of the city," Global Times said and added that it was "irresponsible" of those who "incite" young people to protest on the streets.

Asked if Beijing supported the use of force against the protesters, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said: "Any behaviour that undermines the prosperity and stability of the region will be opposed by the mainstream public opinion in Hong Kong.”

On the query of the foreign press on whether the Chinese government has been sending military vehicles and troops to Hong Kong, Geng said: "This is misinformation. I can tell you that that is an old rumour to instil panic."

The bill has also faced staunch opposition from journalists, foreign politicians, non-governmental organizations and companies over fears that residents in Hong Kong - which belongs to China but has its own laws and currency - accused of crimes will be sent to mainland China.

Henceforth, local activists, journalists, critiques or dissident residents in Hong Kong could also be sent to mainland China for trial.

The Communist regime, devoid of control mechanisms and without any real separation of powers, pledged in 1997 - when Hong Kong's sovereignty was returned to China from the United Kingdom - to keep the system left by the British until 2047. But Beijing's pressure on the archipelago has been increasing.

Several human rights organizations such as the Amnesty International have expressed their concerns as the proposed changes would put at risk anyone's liberties in Hong Kong.

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Related content

Hong Kong postpones second reading of controversial extradition bill

Hong Kong, China, Jun 12 (efe-epa).- Hong Kong's Legislative Council on Wednesday postponed a session in which a second reading of a contentious extradition bill was to take place amid massive opposition on the streets outside.

"The President of the Legislative Council (Andrew Leung) has directed that the Council meeting of 12 June 2019 scheduled to begin at 11:00 am today be changed to a later time to be determined by him. Members will be notified of the time of the meeting later," the council said in a statement.

Hong Kong's parliament was cordoned off by the police among thousands of demonstrators who went onto the streets to protest against the contentious extradition bill, known as the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, which as law would allow individuals to be sent to mainland China to stand trial.

On Tim Mei Avenue, police put up a flag that said "Disperse or we fire," according to Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post. While it escalated tensions, no clashes have been reported in the area so far.

In contrast to the color white chosen for Sunday’s protests (when more than a million people poured onto the streets, although the police put the figure at 240,000), many protesters on Wednesday chose to wear black.

Some also wore masks to avoid being identified and to protect themselves from the pepper spray used by the police in isolated protests reported on Sunday.

"Take back extradition law!" was one of the slogans chanted by the protesters, most of them young.

"The government is against the will of people and continues to pass the law," Democratic Party spokesperson Lam Cheuk-ting said on Wednesday.

The proposed law, which was first tabled in February and the bill of which will be put to a final vote on Jun. 20, would allow Hong Kong to process case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements, including mainland China, Taiwan and Macau, and without direct legislative supervision.

In theory, local courts would handle cases individually and could use veto powers to block extraditions.

The government maintains that the bill is necessary to cover a legal vacuum.

The bill has also faced staunch opposition from journalists, foreign politicians, non-governmental organizations and companies over fears that residents in Hong Kong - which belongs to China but has its own laws and currency - accused of crimes will be sent to mainland China.

In this way, local activists and dissidents living in Hong Kong could also be sent to mainland China for trial.

The Communist regime, devoid of control mechanisms and without any real separation of powers, pledged in 1997 - when Hong Kong's sovereignty was returned to China from the United Kingdom - to keep the system left by the British until 2047, although Beijing's pressure on the archipelago has been increasing.

msc-jt/pd/tw

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