HK tense over proposed changes to extradition law
SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) - After clashes on Sunday night, opponents call for strike tomorrow as authorities dig in
A day after thousands took to the streets to protest against proposed changes to Hong Kong's extradition law, the stage is set for further face-offs.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam made it clear yesterday that the proposed amendments to the Bill will go through a second reading tomorrow, while its opponents have called for more protests.
She noted that the intense discussions over the past four months since the idea was mooted in early February were "quite unprecedented". The proposed law has been watered down twice.
"There is very little merit to be gained to delay the Bill. It will just cause more anxiety and divisiveness in society," Mrs Lam said in a televised speech.
The Bill, which could be passed as early as the end of this month, will allow Hong Kong to hand over fugitives to various jurisdictions, such as Taiwan and mainland China.
But businessmen, diplomats and non-governmental organisations have criticised the proposals, citing fears of political persecution in the mainland.
Mrs Lam said the Bill would ensure that Hong Kong fulfils its obligations in the areas of cross-boundary and transnational crimes.
"This Bill is about putting in place a special surrender arrangement, that is, a case-by-case arrangement, with all the other jurisdictions that Hong Kong has not yet had a long-term agreement," she said, adding that there are more than 170 jurisdictions to which Hong Kong currently cannot return fugitives.
She stressed that she has not "received any instruction or mandate from Beijing" on this.
On the issue of safeguarding human rights, she said the additional safeguards proposed were in line with international norms.
In response to her speech, the organisers of Sunday's rally called for another protest tomorrow.
Mr Jimmy Sham, convener of the coalition behind Sunday's mass protest, said after Mrs Lam's address: "On June 12, we expect that the Civil Human Rights Front will start the rally at 10am."
Some of the Bill's opponents are considering surrounding the Legislative Council tomorrow, while more than 50 companies have announced online that they are going on strike.
Sunday's protest was the biggest in the territory since 1997, when it was returned to the Chinese by the British. Police said the turnout was 240,000 at the rally's peak, while organisers said a total of a million people had joined the protest.
The largely peaceful protest turned violent on Sunday night when protesters clashed with the police at the government headquarters in Admiralty. Eight police officers and some protesters were injured.
Police Commissioner Stephen Lo condemned the violence that broke out after the mass rally and vowed to bring those responsible for the clashes to justice.
The police said 19 people had been arrested - with more likely to be nabbed - and items left behind by the protesters were "quite alarming". They included knives and scissors.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said the government condemned the "radical action" taken by a small number of people who attempted to storm the Legislative Council complex.
Members of the Executive Council reiterated their support for the Bill yesterday, saying it prevented Hong Kong from becoming "a bolthole for criminals".
But pan-democratic lawmakers accused the government of triggering the violence, and called on Mrs Lam to quit for causing instability in Hong Kong.
Protesters charged at police officers soon after the government said around 11pm on Sunday that it would push ahead with the changes.