Hong Kong extradition bill: Protesters demand leader's resignation

Hong Kong extradition bill: Protesters demand leader's resignation

Hong Kong extradition bill: Protesters demand leader's resignation Izvor: DALE DE LA REY / AFP

A temporary calm had returned to Hong Kong Monday Morning, hours after the city stunned its leaders and the world with a second record-breaking protest in a week against a controversial extradition bill with China. Organizers said around 2 million people joined the march, exceeding last week's 1.03 million.

Both worker and student strikes have been called for Monday, and hundreds of protesters were still around central government offices in Admiralty. Protesters have made clear that if the government does not take further action, either with resignations of key officials or fully withdrawing the bill, then they will take to the streets again.

The city's chief executive, Carrie Lam, officially suspended passage of the bill Saturday, following violent clashes between protesters and police earlier in the week. Many had expected the pause and the heavy use of force by police would sap numbers on Sunday.

They could not have been more wrong. A sea of black-clad protesters filled the streets between the starting point in Victoria Park and the legislature in Admiralty. It took more than eight hours for the last group of marchers to reach the end point.

Many of those in attendance said they felt compelled to march Sunday after seeing images of bloodied protesters at previous demonstrations.

Police said that 338,000 people followed the protest's original route. At least three additional streets on either side were filled with protesters, however, and overhead photos showed a far larger crowd than last week or a march in 2003, previously the city's largest ever protest under Chinese rule.

The mood on Sunday's march was completely different to the angry and tense scenes on Wednesday, when protesters seized control of key streets around the legislature, holding them until they were cleared by police using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.

In a clear change in tactics, policing around Sunday's march was nearly invisible. Those officers that could be seen were not dressed in riot gear and mainly kept themselves to directing traffic.

Protesters too did not come geared for trouble, almost none wore face coverings and only a tiny minority had helmets and other protective gear.

In a neat piece of timing that will come as an added blow to Hong Kong's government, pro-democracy icon Joshua Wong walked free from prison Monday, after serving one month of a two month sentence related to protests in 2014.

"It's really good timing to join the fight for freedom and democracy," he told CNN after his release. "Five years ago after the end of the Umbrella Movement, we claimed we would be back. Yesterday two million people came to the streets ... it shows Hong Kong people realize this is a long term battle."

Wong echoed protesters' calls for the city's Beijing-backed leader to resign.

Wong predicted that if the bill is not fully withdrawn and key officials resign, then protests could continue, particularly on July 1, the anniversary of the city's handover from British to Chinese rule and a key annual date for pro-democracy marches.

Massive turnout

On Saturday, Lam, the chief executive, said passage of the bill would be suspended and a second reading due to take place this month canceled. There is no timeline for discussions around the bill to resume, Lam said, and she indicated it likely will not pass this year.

Such a delay will likely kill the bill in its current form as 2020 is an election year in Hong Kong and directly-elected pro-government lawmakers have already warned the controversy over the law could cost them their seats.

Speaking to CNN on Monday, Regina Ip, a member of Lam's cabinet, said she had urged the Chief Executive to formally withdraw the bill and apologize for the chaos which has gripped Hong Kong in recent weeks.

"It's not too difficult to submit a resignation letter, I have done that myself ... but it's more difficult to stay behind and take care of the aftermath," Ip said.

Legal concerns

Although Hong Kong is part of China, it has a different legal system -- a concept known as "one country, two systems."

Pro-democracy figures said the bill, championed by the pro-Beijing Lam government, would lead to the erosion of civil rights in Hong Kong, including freedom of speech and rule of law.

"We are afraid that we will become a mainland city," lawmaker Fernando Cheung said on Thursday. "We would no longer have rule of law, our own autonomy."

Throughout the debate Lam has maintained that the bill is necessary to ensure that Hong Kong does not become a sanctuary for fugitives running from justice in mainland China.

Hong Kong's legislative council is due to go on summer recess July 20 before beginning again in October.

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