Hundreds of thousands of people, almost all of them dressed in black, took to Hong Kong’s streets again today, undeterred — and, if anything, incensed — by the government’s decision yesterday to “pause” work on a controversial extradition bill, calling on the city to scrap the divisive legislation altogether.
Today’s march was scheduled before Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the Legislative Council would stop trying to rush the extradition bill through in this legislative session. However, despite what was inarguably at least a partial victory for the bill’s many opponents, organizers said the march today would go ahead, seeking the full withdrawal of the law, and an apology from Lam over the police’s heavy-handed efforts to break up another massive demonstration on Wednesday.
Organizers announced late in the evening an estimated turnout of nearly two million protesters, a figure that would amount to more than a quarter of the city’s population. At press time, police had yet to offer what can be expected to be a significantly smaller estimate.
The scene right now near the Olympic footbridge in Causeway Bay as thousands of protesters make their way from #HongKong’s Victoria Park. #NoChinaExtradition #HongKongProtests #ExtraditionLaw pic.twitter.com/BN4dxqZK6p
— Coconuts Hong Kong (@CoconutsHK) June 16, 2019
Jimmy Sham, from the main protest group the Civil Human Rights Front, likened Lam’s offer to suspend the bill to a “knife” that had been plunged into the city.
“It’s almost reached our heart,” he said at a press conference yesterday. “Now the government said they won’t push it, but they also refuse to pull it out.”
The demonstration, like a similar one last Sunday, kicked off at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, and snaked through the city to the government’s office complex in Admiralty, the scene of Wednesday’s chaotic protest. Even after 6pm, nearly four hours after the march’s scheduled start, thousands of people were still at Victoria Park waiting to begin their march.
Compared to Wednesday’s protest, which plunged Admiralty into outright anarchy as police fired volley after volley of tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd bent on occupying several major thoroughfares, today’s march was a peaceful, family (and dog)-friendly affair.
Happy attended the march with his owner, Faye, who, like all of the protesters who spoke to Coconuts HK today, said that the government merely suspending work on the extradition bill was unacceptable.
“We haven’t won yet,” Faye said. “Everyone in the world is looking at Hong Kong at the moment, so of course we all have to come out.”
The bill at the center of the record-breaking protests would amend Hong Kong’s extradition laws to allow renditions to other parts of China, including the mainland, for the first time in decades. Government officials had maintained that it was intended to address a murder case in which a Hongkonger was wanted in Taiwan.
However, concerns over the proposed amendments swiftly poured in from seemingly all corners of society, with many worried that the bill would see Hongkongers and foreign residents alike ensnared in mainland China’s opaque and notoriously politicized court system.
Even Taiwan repeatedly expressed its opposition to the bill, saying it would no longer seek the suspect’s extradition if the bill were passed.
Protesters today were unified in their view that Chief Executive Lam’s “pause” on the extradition amendments was unacceptable.
“‘Pause’ is not enough. Pause, they can just start it again whenever they want,” said protester Heyse Ngan, who also objected to “what happened on Wednesday, how they treated the youngsters.”
“We gotta come out, even if the chances [of withdrawal] are slim. We can only put pressure any way we can.”
“We don’t really accept [Lam’s] excuses,” said another protester, who gave her name as Sunnie.
“Why not just cancel it?” she continued, referring to the bill, adding that protesters “really want” Lam to resign over the debacle.
“She should step down. This is ridiculous.”
Sunnie maintained that Lam had “disappointed” her pro-Beijing allies in the government with her handling of the bill, a view shared by her friend Anthony, who believed Lam’s loss of support among the pro-establishment camp all but ensured a resignation was in the offing.
“It’s just a matter of time,” he said.
Indeed, in a rare show of contrition, Lam this evening issued a statement apologizing for the unrest brought on by the bill.
“The Chief Executive acknowledged that the lack of government work has caused great contradictions and disputes in the community of Hong Kong,” an unofficial translation of the statement reads. “Many members of the public are disappointed and saddened. The Chief Executive apologizes to the public and promises to accept it with the utmost sincerity and humility.”
Whether that apology would placate protesters, however, remains to be seen, and the city’s pro-democracy camp has already called for another citywide strike and attendant protest for tomorrow.
Do you hear the people sing? We do. In #HongKong's Admiralty area. And it sounds like #LesMiserables from here. #NoChinaExtradition #HongKongProtests #反送中 #616黑衣大遊行 #AntiExtraditionBill pic.twitter.com/zde3zR6l8R
— Coconuts Hong Kong (@CoconutsHK) June 16, 2019
Protest-goer Angus Lo, 31, said today that he believed that with sustained pressure, the government would indeed withdraw the bill.
“I think that they will cancel [the bill],” he said. “If people keep testing them, I think one day, they will pull out the policy.”
Asked if he would keep returning to streets until that happened, he replied, “Of course.”
Additional reporting by AFP.