Protesters gather in Hong Kong ahead of extradition bill debate
HONG KONG, June 12, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Large crowds of protesters gathered in central Hong Kong early Wednesday as the city braced for another mass rally in a show of strength against the government over a divisive plan to allow extraditions to China.
The financial hub was rocked over the weekend by the largest protest march since the city’s 1997 return to China, as vast crowds called on authorities to scrap the Beijing-backed plan.
Thousands of mostly young people and students began grouping in a park near the government offices ahead of a planned debate on the bill Wednesday, with large numbers of police in riot gear surrounding the official building.
Organisers of Sunday’s march said more than a million people took to the streets — but the record crowds have failed to sway chief executive Carrie Lam who has rejected calls to withdraw or delay the bill and warned opponents against committing “radical acts”.
Many are fearful the proposed law will tangle people in the mainland’s opaque courts and hammer Hong Kong’s reputation as an international business hub.
More than 100 Hong Kong businesses have said they will close Wednesday in a sign of solidarity with the protestors, and the city’s major student unions announced they will boycott classes to attend the rallies.
A string of other prominent unions in the transport, social work and teaching sectors either followed suit or encouraged members to attend while a bus driver union said it would encourage members to drive deliberately slowly on Wednesday to support protests.
Overnight, a group of around 2,000 protestors held a vigil outside the government offices, with some singing hymns.
Hardline protesters had on Sunday made similar plans to spend the night but were prevented by police, who fought running battles with small groups of demonstrators.
Throughout Tuesday evening, police flooded the area around the government offices, stopping and searching many young people as they arrived in the area.
Lawmakers are to debate the bill on Wednesday morning in the city’s legislature, which is dominated by Beijing loyalists. A final vote is expected on June 20.