Hong Kong Protests Turn Violent, Authorities Delay Extradition Vote
Protests in Hong Kong as police unleashed tear gas on protesters and authorities delayed a vote on a controversial extradition law.
The protests over a proposed change to extradition laws that began earlier this week have continued in Hong Kong, and have now turned violent thanks to a government response that corresponds to a decision by city authorities to delay the vote on the new law in light of the protests:
HONG KONG — Riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets in downtown Hong Kong on Wednesday as they repelled tens of thousands of protesters who had swarmed 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.
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 police had cleared some of the area by early Wednesday evening, but not entirely, and the smell of tear gas still hung over downtown. Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority said that 22 people had been taken to public hospitals with injuries sustained in the demonstrations.
As said on Monday, the roots of all this lie in the fact that the city’s legislature is considering a change in the existing extradition law that would make it easier for authorities to send alleged criminals to the mainland for prosecution. Under present laws, those powers are limited and those limitations rea meant to protect citizens and professionals such as journalists who enjoy much greater rights in Hong Kong than they do in the rest of China. The obvious fear, of course, is that the expanded extradition authority would be used to crack down on Chinese dissidents who have otherwise been protected under Hong Kong law.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first time that Hong Kong residents have taken to the streets to protest incursions against their liberties by government authorities. Protests also took to the streets five years ago in response to proposed political reforms that would have limited the right of residents to speak out freely as guaranteed by the treaty China signed in 1997. In that case, the protests fizzled out after reaching a peak nearly as big as what we’re seeing now, but they effectively succeeded in that the legal changes were either scaled back or canceled altogether. These protests, as well as those that occur every June marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, show that the people of Hong Kong continue to jealously guard the rights they have under the law and which China is required to protect under the terms of the agreement with the United Kingdom that returned the territory to Chinese rule. Of course, there would be little chance of a military clash between Great Britain and China if such a crackdown occurred, but it would be strongly resented by the population. This is likely why any perceived efforts to limit those rights would be met with protest.
Another factor motivating China to restrain itself in Hong Kong, of course, is the fact that the leadership is wise enough to know that doing so would be a disaster both in terms of the widespread coverage it would receive from the western media, which is well-established in the city, and internationally. Even in this era where prosperity is becoming more widespread in China a whole, Hong Kong remains the goose that laid the golden egg and the leadership in Beijing is obviously too smart to mess that up. There’s always the possibility that they will lose patience in one of these situations and that they will overreact to the protests in Hong Kong as they did in Tiananmen. At that point, though, they may find that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew.