Tear gas has been fired into a surging crowd of protesters moving toward the Parliament building Hong Kong’s Admiralty neighborhood, where thousands have gathered in defiance of looming extradition legislation that could see Hongkongers tried before mainland Chinese courts.
Only minutes before, Coconuts Hong Kong reporters witnessed riot gear-equipped police streaming out of the government office complex as they reacted to yet another flashpoint amid today’s protest against controversial extradition legislation.
Scores of police in riot gear just came streaming out of the government office complex. pic.twitter.com/BBThmOp8rU
— Coconuts Hong Kong (@CoconutsHK) June 12, 2019
“It’s the government who has forced people to escalate their actions, so I think it’s inevitable for the fight this time to get heated,” protester Lau Ka-chun, 21, said.
A note from protesters circulating in a Telegram messaging group threatened a series of consequences — including storming the Legco buildings, paralyzing public transport, surrounding the houses of cabinet members and continuing to occupy the roads — if the bill is not withdrawn entirely by 3:00pm.
This is important. The use of tear gas is what saw the #OccupyHK movement really kick off in 2014: Police in #HongKong shoot tear gas over #extraditionbill protesters surging toward the entrance to legislative council https://t.co/mQPlwL08M9 @bpolitics #China #HongKongProtest
— Rosalind Mathieson (@RosMathieson) June 12, 2019
“Civil Human Rights Front urges citizens of Hong Kong continue to go on strike and assemble outside Legislative Council Complex to press the government to withdraw the extradition bill. We continue to resist the evil law with peace and non-violence. We ask more and more citizens to come to Admiralty to show the people power!” the English-language version of the message reads.
Lawmakers had been due to debate the bill on Wednesday morning in the city’s legislature, which is dominated by Beijing loyalists, with a final vote expected on June 20.
It was not announced when the next meeting on the bill would be held.
— Alice Su 苏奕安 (@aliceysu) June 12, 2019
News of the postponed debate have done nothing, however, to deter the swelling crowds.
“It’s not enough to delay the meeting,” said student Charles Lee, 23. “Stalling is not our ultimate goal. We need them to consider scrapping it… Clashes are unavoidable if they adopt this attitude towards their citizens.”
That was echoed by pro-democracy lawmaker Fernando Cheung.
“The only responsible thing to do now is for Carrie Lam to withdraw the evil bill, or at least to shelve it in order to solve the crisis,” Cheung said.
“Because the situation is very tense, if she forces it through and asks the police to use violence, I’m afraid Hong Kong’s children will be hurt, will bleed.”
— Yuen Chan (@xinwenxiaojie) June 12, 2019
Hong Kong’s leaders say the proposed law is needed to plug loopholes and to stop the city being a sanctuary for fugitives, and that safeguards are in place to ensure that political critics of Beijing will not be targeted.
But many Hongkongers have little faith in the government’s assurances after years of heightened fears that a resurgent Beijing is trying to quash the city’s unique freedoms and culture — despite a 50-year agreement between Hong Kong’s former colonial ruler, Britain, and China that means the city is guaranteed freedoms unseen on the Chinese mainland.
Western governments have also voiced alarm, with the US this week warning the bill would put people at risk of “China’s capricious judicial system.”
Beijing hit back on Tuesday, with a foreign ministry official saying China “resolutely opposes interference in Hong Kong affairs.”