Hong Kong protests: Tens of thousands take to streets to demand leader steps down
Chief executive Carrie Lam expresses ‘deep sorrow and regret’ after suspending Bill allowing extradition to China
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Hong Kong on Sunday dressed in black to demand the city’s embattled leader steps down.
The latest protest comes a day after Carrie Lam suspended an extradition Bill in a dramatic retreat following the most violent protests in decades.
Some protesters carried white carnation flowers, while others held banners saying, “Do not shoot, we are HongKonger,” as they sought to avoid a repeat of the violence at the financial centre on Wednesday when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas.
First aid volunteers rushed to the scene as some protesters fainted as temperatures hovered around 30 degrees. Others passed around water and fans as they left Victoria Park to march to government offices.
The crowds cheered when organisers called through loud hailers for Ms Lam to step down.
Beijing-backed Ms Lam on Saturday indefinitely delayed the extradition Bill that could send people to mainland China to face trial, expressing “deep sorrow and regret” although she stopped short of apologising.
The about-face was one of the most significant political turnarounds by the Hong Kong government since Britain returned the territory to China in 1997, and it threw into question Ms Lam’s ability to continue to lead the city.
Some Hong Kong tycoons have started moving personal wealth offshore over concerns about the proposed extradition law, which critics warn could erode the city’s international status.
The city’s independent legal system was guaranteed under laws governing Hong Kong’s return from British to Chinese rule 22 years ago, and is seen by business and diplomatic communities as its strong remaining asset amid encroachments from Beijing.
Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula since its return to Beijing, allowing freedoms not enjoyed on mainland China but not a fully democratic vote.
Many accuse Beijing of extensive meddling since then, including obstruction of democratic reforms, interference with elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialised in works critical of Chinese leaders.
Some opponents of the extradition Bill said a suspension was not enough and want it scrapped and Ms Lam to go.
“If she refuses to scrap this controversial Bill altogether, it would mean we wouldn’t retreat. She stays on, we stay on,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo.
Asked repeatedly on Saturday if she would step down, Ms Lam avoided answering directly and appealed to the public to “give us another chance.” Ms Lam said she had been a civil servant for decades and still had work she wanted to do.
She added that she felt “deep sorrow and regret that the deficiencies in our work and various other factors have stirred up substantial controversies and disputes in society”.
Her reversal was hailed by business groups and overseas governments.
However, China’s top newspaper on Sunday condemned “anti-China lackeys” of foreign forces in Hong Kong.
“Certain people in Hong Kong have been relying on foreigners or relying on young people to build themselves up, serving as the pawns and lackeys of foreign anti-China forces,” the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said in a commentary.
“This is resolutely opposed by the whole of the Chinese people including the vast majority of Hong Kong compatriots.”
Ms Lam had said the extradition law was necessary to prevent criminals using Hong Kong as a place to hide and that human rights would be protected by the city’s court which would decide on the extraditions on a case-by-case basis.
Critics, including leading lawyers and rights groups, note China’s justice system is controlled by the Communist Party, and say it is marked by torture and forced confessions, arbitrary detention and poor access to lawyers.
The Hong Kong protests have been the largest in the city since crowds came out against the bloody suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations centred around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4th, 1989.
Officials said 72 people were admitted to hospitals from the Wednesday protest, while a man died on Saturday after falling from construction scaffolding where he unfurled a banner denouncing Hong Kong’s extradition Bill, local media reported. – Reuters