Hong Kong delays debate on extradition Bill as thousands of protesters block key roads

HONG KONG (The Straits Times/ANN) - Protestors dragged metal barricades to the roads leading to government headquarters in Admiralty.

Hong Kong lawmakers were forced to delay a planned debate of the controversial extradition Bill on Wednesday morning (June 12) after thousands of protesters parked themselves outside the government headquarters in Admiralty and blocked key downtown routes to show their opposition.

In an advisory, the Hong Kong authorities asked civil servants not to head for the government headquarters, as its entrances were blocked.

In scenes resembling the 2014 pro-democracy "umbrella" protests, young protesters, many dressed in black, wearing masks and carrying umbrellas, dragged metal barricades to the roads leading to the government complex, with the aim of cutting off access to the building. Others spilled onto Harcourt Road and Lung Wo Road, disrupting traffic.

Shortly after 9am, protesters started clapping and chanting “go Hong Kong, go”,  “cancel the meeting” and “(we) oppose the Bill”. 

Local reports said police in riot gear used pepper spray on the crowds. By about 9.45am, the police started dispersing the crowd. Police issued a red notice to warn protesters not to misbehave or they will use force. 

A government notice issued at 11am said the meeting to debate the Bill has been rescheduled “to a later time”. But the protest organisers said there could still be a meeting, and asked protesters to protect themselves.

The authorities have asked the train operator to skip Admiralty station on the Island (blue) and Tsuen Wan (red) lines due to the massive crowd.

The government had in February proposed changes to the extradition law that will allow Hong Kong to extradite people to the mainland to stand trial. 

Critics in various sectors, including legal, politics and business communities, argued that the law might be used for political persecution and that fugitives might not receive a  fair trial in the mainland.

While the government has explained that there are safeguards to prevent this, those who oppose the Bill say it threatens Hong Kong's rule of law and undermines the "one country, two systems" principle.

Under the principle, Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy and freedoms for 50 years from 1997, the year when the British handed the former colony back to China.

Observers have noted growing concerns that Beijing is tightening its grip on Hong Kong, and the extradition Bill is seen by some as the last straw.

Wednesday morning's rally came after there were fresh calls for protests from opposition lawmakers who urged the public to join their cause and camp outside the Legislative Council complex in a peaceful demonstration until next Thursday, when the Bill is expected to come to a vote.

On Tuesday, death threats were made against the family of Chief Executive Carrie Lam after she refused to back down.

The developments followed Sunday's protest - the biggest in the territory since the handover in 1997.

Police estimated a 240,000-strong crowd at its peak, far below the more than one million figure put forward by organisers.

The largely peaceful protest turned violent on Sunday night when about 350 protesters stormed the LegCo and clashed with police. Eight police officers and some protesters were injured. At least 19 people were arrested.

Videos

Photos