Hong Kong postpones debate on Extradition Bill

Riot police stand guard as protesters walk outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Thursday, June 13, 2019. After days of silence, Chinese state media is characterizing the largely peaceful demonstrations in Hong Kong as a "riot" and accusing protesters of "violent acts." (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

HONG KONG (The Straits Times/ANN) – Hong Kong on June 13 postponed the legislative debate on the controversial Extradition Bill for a second day, after a massive rally that witnessed violent clashes between protesters and the police on Wednesday.

In a notice to lawmakers, the Legislative Council (LegCo) Secretariat said that the council will not hold a session on Thursday to debate the Bill. It added that further announcement will be made once the LegCo president sets a time for the meeting.

For security reasons, the Central Government Offices are also closed on Thursday and Friday.

More than a hundred protesters were seen lingering on Hong Kong’s streets on Thursday morning as heavy rain fell. Some of them turned up at the LegCo complex at Admiralty before 11 a.m. to clear debris left behind from the protests overnight but riot police turned up and lined up before them. Tensions spiked for a while before the officers left.

The protesters then resumed clearing debris while others clustered around the LegCo complex.

Labour Party politician Fernando Cheung emerged from the complex and told those gathering around that there will be no debate on Thursday. He also urged protesters to go home and rest.

Security remained tight and police reopened several roads in the affected area, including Harcourt Road and Queensway.

The Civil Human Rights Front, a pro-democracy coalition which acted as the unofficial organizer of the demonstrations, had said late Wednesday that protests would continue until the government withdrew the Bill.

On Wednesday night, hundreds of young protesters took over roads in Central, paralyzing traffic. Another huge group of protesters confronted the police in Admiralty on Queensway until about 2 a.m., when they dispersed.

Piles of rubbish and debris used as makeshift barriers by the protesters were left on the roads and were cleared overnight to allow vehicles to pass.

The protesters were demanding that Chief Executive Carrie Lam back down from a controversial Extradition Bill that would allow Hong Kong to convey fugitives to the mainland to stand trial. Critics of the Bill pointed to Beijing’s opaque legal system and said the Bill could be used to target political opponents of China.

Lam has said that the Bill has enough safeguards and has vowed to push on, saying in a video address on Wednesday that the protesters had orchestrated a riot, an offense that carries a 10-year jail term.

What began as a largely peaceful rally outside the LegCo complex on Wednesday morning turned chaotic in the afternoon as tens of thousands of protesters charged at the police using the advance and retreat strategy reminiscent of the 2014 “occupy” movement against Chinese political reforms. They hurled water bottles and other items at police.

To contain the crowd, the police had at first used batons and pepper spray, but they later fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, many of whom were in black attire, and had put on face masks, goggles and helmets.

Many protesters fled to nearby office buildings and a shopping mall to take cover, as shops in the mall hastily shuttered. The upmarket Pacific Place mall, close to the LegCo complex, said in a notice that it would be shut on Thursday for safety reasons.

By evening, the protesters had shifted from the LegCo complex in Admiralty and scattered in two directions – Central and Wan Chai – stopping traffic in those areas.

The Civil Human Rights Front, organizer of Sunday’s rally, has called for a city-wide strike, while the Professional Teachers’ Union has called for class boycotts for a week.

Expressing its strong opposition to the class boycott and teachers’ strike, the Education Bureau on Wednesday reiterated that schools should not be used for expressing political aspirations “as that would not only affect normal school operations but also unfairly drag underaged students into political turbulence at the expense of their learning opportunities”. ●

By Claire Huang