Hong Kong Protests: Demonstrators Block Roads

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Demonstrators clashed with riot police outside Legislative Council building in Hong Kong on Wednesday.CreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Dragging heavy metal barriers, thousands of protesters poured onto roads around Hong Kong’s legislature on Wednesday morning to block access to the building, in the latest demonstration against a contentious bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China.

The demonstrators, many of them young people in black T-shirts and wearing surgical masks, set up the barriers on a wide road outside the Legislative Council, as the sound of the metal scraping the asphalt ricocheted through a canyon of skyscrapers. Hundreds of riot police, wearing full face shields and carrying batons, looked on.

The protest recalled the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement five years ago, which shut down several districts in the city — including the very roads that protesters were blocking on Wednesday — but ultimately failed to win any concessions from the government.

One of the protesters, Daniel Yeung, 21, stood on a cement barrier in the center of the road in the shadow of the legislative building, wearing black clothing, a white surgical mask and gardening gloves. The road, normally a busy thoroughfare, was now a sea of black shirts. A city bus stood stalled at the edge of the crowds.

Mr. Yeung said he had come to protest the extradition bill and what he called the “arbitrary” policies of Carrie Lam, the Beijing-backed chief executive of Hong Kong, and President Xi Jinping of China. If the law passes, he said, he feared what the authorities might do. “They’ll think you’re a suspect and send you back to China.”

On Tuesday night, several hundred people streamed into areas near the Legislative Council and government offices, with many of them huddling across the street, blocked by steel barricades. Half a dozen police vans with flashing red lights parked near the protesters and riot police officers with helmets, batons and shields stood nearby.

Other protesters gathered on a landscaped pedestrian bridge and a waterfront, singing hymns and joining in prayers led by representatives of religious groups. “We may be losing something precious,” Yip Po Lam, a Catholic priest, told the protesters. “But I hope we will not leave behind our values and our persistence.”

Jeffrey Chan, an undergraduate studying sports, said that he felt compelled to protest because there were few other options for recourse in a political system where the authorities have rejected demands for free elections.

“The government has not responded to the people after more than a million came out to demonstrate,” Mr. Chan said. “I also feel that Hong Kong has lost freedom of speech.”

Riot police outside the Legislative Council building early Wednesday morning.CreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Residents were planning protests, strikes and a transportation slowdown for Wednesday, as lawmakers were set to debate the contentious bill that would allow people to be extradited to mainland China for trial.

The demonstrations were expected to be smaller than the march held on Sunday, in which up to a million people, or a seventh of the territory’s population, paraded through the city in an overwhelmingly peaceful protest.

By Tuesday afternoon, labor groups, businesses and student organizations across the city had announced plans to demonstrate their opposition to the extradition bill. Small businesses, including restaurants and bookstores, said they would close their doors; high school students and as many as 4,000 of their teachers planned a walkout; and a union for bus drivers urged members to drive well below the speed limit.

An online petition called for 50,000 people to protest outside the Legislative Council, the city’s legislature, as it prepared for its second debate on the proposed law. On Monday, the council said it would restrict access to a nearby area that is typically reserved for demonstrations.

The pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo and Jimmy Sham, a protest organizer, demonstrating outside the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong on Tuesday.CreditThomas Peter/Reuters

Lawmakers are likely to vote on the bill by the end of next week, the head of Hong Kong’s legislature said, despite mass protests over the weekend.

The plan, announced on Tuesday by the chairman of the Legislative Council, Andrew Leung, further inflamed tensions in Hong Kong after Sunday saw one of the largest protests in the semiautonomous Chinese territory’s recent history.

The city’s police force said no violence would be tolerated at any public protests. The South China Morning Post reported that thousands of additional officers had been mobilized.

Mr. Leung said that the bill could go to a vote on June 20 after about 60 hours of debate, adding “the case is pressing and has to be handled as soon as possible.” The measure is likely to pass in the local legislature, where pro-Beijing lawmakers hold 43 of 70 seats.

Opposition lawmakers had expected the vote to take place around the end of the month, based on a regular schedule of meetings. The legislative chairman’s decision to add more meetings in the coming days in order to bring the date of the vote forward quickly drew criticism. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said on Monday that the bill would be pushed through “out of our clear conscience, and our commitment to Hong Kong.”

Critics contend that the law would allow virtually anyone in Hong Kong to be picked up and detained in mainland China, where judges must follow the orders of the ruling Communist Party.CreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

The bill would allow Hong Kong to detain and transfer people wanted in countries and territories with which it has no formal extradition agreements, including Taiwan and the Chinese mainland.

Ms. Lam has said the new law is urgently needed to prosecute a Hong Kong man who is wanted in Taiwan for the murder of his girlfriend. But the authorities in Taiwan, a self-governed island claimed by Beijing, say they would not agree to the extradition arrangement because it would treat Taiwan as part of China.

Critics contend that the law would allow virtually anyone in the city to be picked up and detained in mainland China, where judges must follow the orders of the Communist Party. They fear the new law would not just target criminals but political activists as well.

The extradition plan applies to 37 crimes. That excludes political ones, but critics fear the legislation would essentially legalize the sort of abductions to the mainland that have taken place in Hong Kong in recent years. The mainland Chinese authorities are typically not permitted to operate in the semiautonomous territory.

Mike Ives, Tiffany May and Katherine Li contributed reporting.

Source: NYT

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