Hong Kong protests flare anew after demands unmet

Hong Kong protests flare anew after demands unmet

Photo: Protesters march outside the Hong Kong Revenue Tower in an attempt to block government work in Hong Kong Friday, June 21, 2019.

Hong Kong, Jun 21 : Several hundred mainly student protesters have gathered outside Hong Kong government offices, with some blocking traffic on a major thoroughfare and others occupying the lobby of a government tax office.

The new protest actions came after a deadline passed for the government to meet demands related to controversial extradition legislation that many see as eroding the territory’s judicial independence.

Police called for demonstrators to disperse but have not taken firm action to remove them.

While the scene began peacefully, the presence again of protesters on busy Harcourt Road and in the lobby of the Revenue Tower raised the possibility of potentially violent confrontations.

“I now appeal to the members of the public to leave as soon as possible,” police spokeswoman Yolanda Yu said at a news conference.

Outside, activist Joshua Wong called on police to answer demands over heavy-handed tactics used during a mass protest June 12, including the firing of 150 rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds, and the beating of unarmed protesters by police with truncheons.

“We … urge police to apologize to the people” over the use of such tactics and their definition of the gathering as a riot, Wong said.

Protest leaders have said they are determined to keep up the pressure on territory leader Carrie Lam, who has shelved but not abandoned the extradition legislation. She has insisted the bill is needed to uphold justice, but critics see it as part of a campaign by Beijing to diminish Hong Kong’s democratic institutions.

“I myself am not the type to get involved in violence,” said student protester Brian Chow. “I’ll just carry on sitting here, sing some Christian hymns, show our resistance, and keep the government paralyzed until it responds to us.”

Another student, who would only give her first name, Yvonne, said she was determined to keep the movement’s momentum.

“I’m going to carry on coming out, and carry on protesting,” she said.

Many protesters have been wary of giving their full names and some have obscured their features with facemasks as a means of guarding their identities against potential retribution from government or school authorities.

Government offices were ordered closed Friday “due to security considerations,” and hearings at the Legislative Council were suspended.

Since the confrontations June 12, police have eased their approach, hoping to avoid a replay of 2014 protests, when officers unleashed 87 rounds of tear gas at protesters in the same location as the current protesters. When the smoke from that response cleared, bigger crowds returned, angrier than before, and didn’t leave for nearly three months.

The bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include mainland China, Taiwan and Macau. Legal and business groups in Hong Kong oppose the legislation, saying critics of China’s ruling Communist Party would be at risk of torture and unfair trials on the mainland and it further chips away at the “one country, two systems” framework under which Hong Kong has been governed since 1997.

That framework guaranteed the territory the right to retain its own legal, economic and political system for 50 years, but the Communist Party under Chinese President Xi Jinping has been pushing ever-more aggressively to quiet independent voices in Hong Kong. Beijing has squelched all reporting on the protests in mainland media and accused foreign forces of stirring up disturbances in Hong Kong.

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