What’s Going On in Hong Kong? A Guide to the Protests

HONG KONG — The protests that have shaken Hong Kong this summer began with huge demonstrations in early June against an unpopular bill. Since then, they have become a broader movement against Beijing’s power in this semiautonomous territory.

Over the course of several weeks, violent clashes between young protesters and the police have become more frequent, and the demonstrators’ demands have gotten more diverse and ambitious. Activists have stormed government offices, halted public transportation and defaced symbols of China’s authority. And the police’s use of force against demonstrators, along with their failure to prevent a mob attack on train passengers, has made their conduct a central issue.

Here’s a guide to what prompted the protests, how they evolved and why it all matters.

Hong Kong, an international finance hub on China’s southern coast, was a British colony until 1997, when it was handed back to China under a policy known as “one country, two systems.”

The policy made Hong Kong part of China but let it keep many liberties denied to citizens on the mainland, including free speech, unrestricted internet access and the right to free assembly. The territory has its own laws, system of government and police force under a mini-constitution known as the Basic Law. China promised that this system would remain in place until at least 2047.

But many Hong Kongers feel that Beijing is already chipping away at its autonomy, and that the local government does its bidding. The territory’s top leader, the chief executive — currently Carrie Lam — is appointed by a pro-Beijing committee. And China’s security apparatus has made troubling intrusions into Hong Kong territory, including abducting booksellers and a Chinese-born billionaire.

In February, the local government introduced a bill in Hong Kong’s legislature, which is stacked with pro-China lawmakers, that would allow people accused of crimes to be sent to places with which Hong Kong had no extradition treaty — including mainland China, where the courts are controlled by the Communist Party.

Mrs. Lam, the chief executive, argued that the bill was needed to guarantee justice for victims. She said it was prompted by the case of a man who was accused of killing his girlfriend in Taiwan, then evading prosecution by fleeing to Hong Kong. Critics say the bill would allow Beijing to target dissidents in Hong Kong with phony charges.

The discussion and demands changed on June 12, when the police used pepper spray, batons and more than 150 canisters of tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters, a small number of whom had thrown projectiles at the police.

The violence raised the pressure on Mrs. Lam, and on June 15 she suspended the extradition bill, later calling it “dead.” But she refused to withdraw it entirely. Protesters consider that a half measure and have insisted on the bill’s formal withdrawal, as well as Mrs. Lam’s resignation and an investigation of the police’s use of force.

Fueled by anger toward the police, as well as the slow erosion of civil liberties, the largely leaderless protests have morphed into a broader, more complicated movement: about protecting freedoms, democracy and Hong Kong’s autonomy.

The demonstrations have continued, and the vast majority of the participants have been nonviolent. A peaceful march on June 16 was the biggest in Hong Kong’s history — as many as two million people may have joined it.

But clashes between the police and young protesters in hard hats, masks and black T-shirts have escalated sharply. Hundreds of demonstrators broke into the Legislative Council building in July, occupying it for hours and vandalizing it. Later that month, protesters defaced China’s national emblem on the central government’s main office in the city.

The police have made hundreds of arrests, activists have added the release of prisoners to their demands, and the cycle of protests, clashes and disruption has no clear end in sight.

Sahred From Source link World News

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