Fresh rallies in Hong Kong as protesters defy extradition bill

Published On: June 27, 2019 11:15 AM NPT By: Reuters

HONG KONG, June 27: Hundreds of demonstrators rallied on Thursday outside the office of Hong Kong’s justice secretary after another night of protests over a suspended extradition bill that has plunged the Chinese-ruled city into a political crisis.

Millions have thronged the streets in the past three weeks to demand the bill, which would allow criminal suspects to be sent to the mainland for trial in courts controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, be scrapped.

“Withdraw evil law, release martyrs...Teresa Cheng, come out,” the protesters chanted, referring to the justice secretary, interspersed with another demand, “Condemn excessive force by police and release protesters.”

Early on Thursday, riot police wielding batons and shields chased dozens of protesters who had besieged police headquarters through the streets of Wan Chai, a popular nightspot.

The government said while it respected the public’s right to peaceful assembly it was unacceptable for protesters to block roads and surround police headquarters.

The demonstrators have seized on this week’s G20 summit of world leaders in Japan to appeal for Hong Kong’s plight to be put on the agenda, a move certain to rile Beijing, which has vowed not to tolerate such discussion.

“We know that the G20 is coming. We want to grasp this opportunity to voice for ourselves,” said Jack Cool Tsang, 30, a theater technician who took a day off work to protest.

The protesters are also demanding the government release those arrested and investigate what they describe as excessive use of force by police officers.

Images of police firing rubber bullets and tear gas beneath gleaming skyscrapers this month near the heart of the financial center grabbed global headlines and drew condemnation from international rights groups and protest organizers.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who has kept a low profile over the past few days, suspended the bill a day after the violent protests but stopped short of a full withdrawal and rejected repeated calls to step down.

The demonstrations, which pose the greatest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012, have repeatedly forced the temporary closure of government offices, blocked major roads and caused massive disruptions.

Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows it freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the liberty to protest and an independent judiciary.

But many accuse China of increased meddling over the years, by obstructing democratic reform, interfering with elections, suppressing young activists, as well as being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.

Opponents of the extradition bill fear being placed at the mercy of a justice system rights group say is plagued by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detentions.

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