Extradition Protesters in Hong Kong Face Tear Gas and Rubber Bullets

HONG KONG — Riot police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets in downtown Hong Kong on Wednesday as they repelled tens of thousands of protesters who tried to swarm the city’s legislature in anger over proposed legislation that would allow extraditions to mainland China.

The street confrontation began on Wednesday afternoon when a small number of protesters stormed police barricades outside the Legislative Council and hurled bricks, bottles and umbrellas at the officers. The riot police responded by firing rubber bullets, beanbag rounds and tear-gas canisters at the protesters.

The large-scale clashes — rare in this financial hub — underscore both the deep-seated anger that protesters feel about the erosion of liberties in the territory and the police’s resolve to maintain order.

It was a sharp escalation of violence in a protest movement that took off in earnest on Sunday when an estimated 1 million people marched against the extradition bill and China’s growing influence in the territory. That march ended with small clashes in the early hours of Monday, but protesters began pouring back into the area around the legislature on Tuesday night ahead of a debate on the bill scheduled for the next day.

Carrie Lam, who was selected by China’s leaders to govern Hong Kong two years ago, stood firm on Wednesday against what she called an “organized riot” and said she would not withdraw the contentious bill.

She also compared the demonstrators to stubborn children, in remarks made before the protests turned violent.

“If my son was stubborn and I spoiled him and tolerated his stubborn behavior every time, I would just be going along with him,” Ms. Lam told a local television station.

The widespread public outrage puts Ms. Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, in a delicate position. Retreating could make her look weak and risks drawing the ire of her party benefactors, who support the bill, but moving ahead with a vote on the proposal could incite even more protests and unrest.

On Wednesday afternoon, Stephen Lo, the police commissioner, described the demonstrations as “riots” and called on protesters to go home, warning that those who refused “might regret your decision for your entire life.”

With a volley of tear gas canisters, the police forced the protesters to retreat from the Legislative Council and into the streets. There, the protesters engaged in several skirmishes with riot officers, who hit them with batons. At least on one occasion, in full view of reporters watching from a bridge, one officer severely beat a protester who fell down during the retreat, steps away from the Legislative Council.

The bill has sparked anger in recent months across a broad swath of society in this former British colony, and concerns from around the world. Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign secretary, urged Hong Kong on Wednesday to “pause and reflect” on the bill.

But the bill is likely to pass soon, possibly next week, because pro-Beijing lawmakers hold 43 of 70 seats in the Legislative Council.

The protests outside the council’s downtown headquarters began on Tuesday evening with vigils and modest demonstrations against the bill, a day before it was to have a second reading in the council.

By Wednesday morning, the multilane highway that runs past the council’s headquarters and through a canyon of skyscrapers — normally packed with businesspeople and patrons of a luxury mall — was filled with a raucous crowd. Many were young people who wore black T-shirts and wielded tools to help ward off pepper spray and tear gas, including hard hats, goggles and umbrellas, the enduring symbol of the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

Several protesters said in interviews that they had little hope of forcing the Hong Kong government to back down on the extradition bill. But they said they also recognized that it might be their last time to take such a public stand on incursions by the Chinese government into their way of life.

If the extradition bill passes, “they’ll think you’re a suspect and send you back to China,” said Daniel Yeung, 21, a protester who stood atop a cement barrier wearing black clothing, a white surgical mask and green gardening gloves.

Carol Ng, the chairwoman of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and a union representative for the Hong Kong Cabin Crew Federation, said early on Wednesday afternoon that about 30 flight attendants from Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon and other airlines were at the demonstration, albeit not as part of an official protest.

Ms. Ng warned that the extradition bill, if passed, could affect “each and everyone in the city,” including passengers in transit at Hong Kong’s international airport.

“No one is safe,” she said.

At some companies, including the marketing firm where Ms. Ip works, managers let their employees leave work to join the demonstrations.

Ms. Ip, who was 8 years old when Hong Kong returned to Chinese control, said she did so Wednesday out of love for her city.

But as the sun set over the Legislature Council, under the crackle of tear gas canisters, Ms. Ip looked weary and disillusioned. On her shoulder hung a towel that she had used to wipe pepper spray and tear gas from her eyes.

“This is not the Hong Kong I know,” she said quietly.

Sahred From Source link World News

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