Huge Crowds March in Hong Kong, Piling Pressure on Leader

HONG KONG (AP) -
Protesters carrying umbrellas gather at Victoria Peak to stage a protest against the extradition bill in Hong Kong, Sunday. (Apple Daily via AP)

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents, mostly in black, jammed the city’s streets Sunday in a march protesting the government’s handling of a proposed extradition bill.

The crowds, walking slowly and shouting “withdraw” and “resign,” spilled into the streets from downtown Victoria Park and began marching toward the Central district where the government headquarters is located.

The demonstrators carried banners demanding that Chief Executive Carrie Lam resign and drop the legislation completely instead of just suspending it as she announced Saturday.

Sunday’s march looked likely to match in scale the previous week’s march that brought as many as 1 million out to express their concern over the former British colony’s relations with mainland China.

Pro-democracy activists were calling for a general strike on Monday despite Lam’s decision to suspend work on the legislation. Some labor unions, teachers associations and other groups were planning boycotts of work and classes.

“We encourage all the public to carry on the campaign,” said Bonny Leung and other leaders of the pro-democracy Civil Human Rights Front.

Many opponents of the extradition legislation are urging Lam to step down and want her to drop the legislation, which many fear would undermine freedoms enjoyed by this former British colony but not elsewhere in China.

The communist government in Beijing issued multiple statements backing Lam’s decision, which she announced in a news conference Saturday.

The battle over legislation has evolved into Hong Kong’s toughest political test since the Communist Party-ruled mainland took control in 1997 with a promise not to interfere with the city’s civil liberties and courts.

Demonstrations on Wednesday turned violent, with dozens injured as police fought back with tear gas, rubber bullets and other forceful measures.

Lam has said the extradition legislation is needed if Hong Kong is to uphold justice, meet its international obligations and not become a magnet for fugitives. The proposed bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.

China has been excluded from Hong Kong’s extradition agreements because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record.

Lam has sidestepped questions over whether she should quit and said she still plans to seek passage of the proposed amendment. She also defended how the police dealt with the clashes with demonstrators.

But she said she was suspending the bill indefinitely. It was time, she said, “for responsible government to restore as quickly as possible this calmness in society.”

“I want to stress that the government is adopting an open mind,” she said. “We have no intention to set a deadline for this work.”

Many believe Hong Kong’s legal autonomy has been significantly diminished despite Beijing’s insistence that it is still honoring its promises, dubbed “one country, two systems.”

Prosecutions of activists, detentions without trial of five Hong Kong book publishers and the illegal seizure in Hong Kong by mainland agents of at least one mainland businessman are among moves in recent years that have unnerved many in the city of 7 million.