Po­lice use rub­ber bul­lets as Hong Kong pro­test­ers vow ‘no re­treat’

The Guardian (USA) - - Front Page - Verna Yu and Lily Kuo in Hong Kong, and Oliver Holmes

Riot po­lice have used rub­ber bul­lets, ba­tons and tear­gas against peo­ple in Hong Kong protest­ing against a con­tro­ver­sial extraditio­n bill that would tighten Bei­jing’s grip on the semi-au­tonomous ter­ri­tory.

Un­able to drive away the crowds paralysing the cen­tral business district on Wed­nes­day, au­thor­i­ties were forced to de­lay a de­bate over the bill that would al­low crim­i­nal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent for trial in main­land China.

Pro­test­ers worry Bei­jing will ex­ploit the law to extradite political op­po­nents and activists to the main­land, where they would be sub­ject to a Chi­nese jus­tice sys­tem crit­i­cised by hu­man rights activists.

The vi­o­lence marked an es­ca­la­tion in the big­gest political cri­sis to hit the city in years. Af­ter the po­lice crack­down, a group of pro­test­ers made a failed at­tempt to storm gov­ern­ment of­fices. In sev­eral cases, crowds charged at armed of­fi­cers, throw­ing bot­tles and other de­bris.

Hos­pi­tal au­thor­i­ties told broad­caster RTHK that 72 peo­ple had been taken to hos­pi­tal and two were in a se­ri­ous con­di­tion. Pictures and videos on so­cial me­dia ap­peared to show peo­ple wounded by rub­ber bul­lets or bean-bag rounds, which po­lice fired from shot­guns.

Demon­stra­tors shut down the main thor­ough­fare and streets near the leg­is­la­ture, re­fus­ing to leave un­til the au­thor­i­ties re­tracted the bill.

The po­lice chief, Stephen Lo, de­scribed the protest as a “riot sit­u­a­tion” and claimed of­fi­cers needed to pro­tect them­selves or “pro­test­ers would have used metal bars to stab our col­leagues”.

The mass gath­er­ings be­gan on Sun­day with a march that drew hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple, and have re­mained largely non-vi­o­lent. Asked if the po­lice would ask the Chi­nese army to help, Lo said: “Def­i­nitely not, at this stage.”

Bei­jing re­it­er­ated its sup­port for the extraditio­n law at a press brief­ing and called ru­mours that the gov­ern­ment would call in the mil­i­tary to clear protests “mis­in­for­ma­tion”.

On the streets of Hong Kong, po­lice held up black ban­ners warn­ing they were pre­pared to use force. Wa­ter cannon was also used against the crowd ear­lier in the day.

“The gov­ern­ment just wants to scare the young peo­ple [by shoot­ing tear­gas],” a pro­tester, Wong Shan, 80, said. “Some po­lice were even hold­ing ri­fles. Un­like the 1967 riot, nobody is wreck­ing shops. They are just voic­ing their opin­ions,” he added, re­fer­ring to ri­ots against Bri­tish rule in the for­mer colony.

“Hong Kong has be­come a dan­ger­ous place,” said Free­man Yim, 36, a con­struc­tion worker. “You can just imag­ine what Hong Kong will be­come once the law comes in. Every­one has come out, what­ever sec­tor they be­long to.”

The Hong Kong leg­is­la­ture’s chair, An­drew Le­ung, planned to limit de­bate on the extraditio­n bill to 61 hours, mean­ing it could be put to a vote on 20 June. The cham­ber is dom­i­nated by pro-Bei­jing politi­cians, mak­ing it al­most cer­tain the bill will pass.

Pro­test­ers fear that civil rights and free­doms guar­an­teed to Hong Kong un­der the “one coun­try, two sys­tems” ar­range­ment, made af­ter Bri­tain re­turned the colony to China in 1997, will be quickly eroded un­der the new law. China of­ten uses non-political crimes to pros­e­cute its crit­ics.

The UK prime min­is­ter, Theresa May, said it was vi­tal that any new extraditio­n treaty did not vi­o­late rights agreed af­ter the Bri­tish with­drawal, which al­lowed the ter­ri­tory to main­tain a semi-in­de­pen­dent lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

“We are con­cerned about the po­ten­tial ef­fects of these pro­pos­als, par­tic­u­larly ob­vi­ously given the large num­ber of Bri­tish cit­i­zens there are in Hong Kong,” she said.

One pro­tester, a 55-year-old lab tech­ni­cian who gave his name only as Chan, said: “We don’t trust China. Rules and laws can be ar­bi­trar­ily ap­plied and we can see this in Hong Kong al­ready.” He cited the re­cent dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tions of pro-democ­racy politi­cians and jail­ing of the lead­ers of the 2014 Oc­cupy Cen­tral move­ment.

Ob­servers have started to call this week’s demon­stra­tions Oc­cupy 2.0, a ref­er­ence to 79 days of demon­stra­tions that paral­ysed the city in 2014, also known as the “um­brella move­ment”.

Hold­ing up a sign that read: “Scrap China extraditio­n bill”, the pro-democ­racy politi­cian Clau­dia Mo said to a cheer­ing crowd: “At the end of the um­brella move­ment didn’t we say we would be back? Now we are back!”

The lat­est demon­stra­tions be­gan on

Tues­day night af­ter an on­line pe­ti­tion called for 50,000 peo­ple to gather from 10pm on Tues­day. Many camped overnight.

Hun­dreds of busi­nesses closed on Wed­nes­day, and thou­sands of par­ents and teach­ers called for a boy­cott of work and classes to show their op­po­si­tion to the pro­posed bill.

Stu­dent unions of seven uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges also said they would boy­cott classes. Sev­eral churches said they would hold meet­ings to pray for the city’s lead­er­ship and peace for Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong avi­a­tion in­dus­try gath­ered 1,700 em­ploy­ees’ sig­na­tures to de­mand its union ini­ti­ate a strike while the union of the New World First Bus com­pany con­demned the gov­ern­ment for ig­nor­ing cit­i­zens’ voices and urged driv­ers to drive slowly on Wed­nes­day. The Hong Kong Con­fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions, which has 190,000 mem­bers, also urged its mem­bers to stay off work for the day.

De­spite the out­pour­ing of op­po­si­tion Hong Kong’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Carrie Lam, said she re­mained de­ter­mined to pass the law.

In a tear­ful Wed­nes­day morn­ing in­ter­view, Lam de­nied she was “sell­ing out Hong Kong” to Bei­jing, as pro­test­ers have claimed. “I have grown up here with all the Hong Kong peo­ple,” she told the broad­caster TVB. “My love for this place has led me to make many per­sonal sac­ri­fices.”

Of­fi­cial Chi­nese me­dia did not report on the protests on Wed­nes­day and men­tions of the protests were scrubbed from Chi­nese so­cial me­dia plat­forms. The search term “Let’s go, Hong Kong” or Xiang­gang ji­ay­ouwas blocked on the mi­croblog­ging site Weibo.

Sup­port­ers of the bill say it will ap­ply only to those in­volved in se­ri­ous crimes, while Bei­jing has claimed that op­po­si­tion lead­ers and “for­eign forces” have mis­led the public.

Early on Thurs­day morn­ing a few pro­test­ers were still hang­ing on. Some were start­ing to clean up plas­tic wa­ter bot­tles, face masks, zip ties and other rem­nants of the protests left be­hind af­ter po­lice cleared most oc­cu­pied ar­eas. Oth­ers were sit­ting by an of­fice build­ing, smok­ing and keep­ing out of the rain.

Dozens of po­lice vans were parked around cen­tral Hong Kong with of­fi­cers sleep­ing in­side, eat­ing or look­ing at their phones.

Arthur Lau, 24, a first-aid vol­un­teer, still stood at alert, staring down a group of po­lice sep­a­rated from the pro­test­ers by a makeshift bar­ri­cade. He said he had been there for three or four hours since the group re­treated from ar­eas around the gov­ern­ment com­plex.

“If they pass this law, we won’t be able to protest any more. This is our last free­dom,” he said. Lau said other demon­stra­tors had promised to come back to­mor­row.

“I don’t want to re­treat. If we re­treat we won’t come back. I’ll stay un­til the oth­ers come.”

Pho­to­graph: Kin Che­ung /AP

A pro­tester re­acts as she is tack­led by riot po­lice dur­ing a mas­sive demon­stra­tion out­side the leg­isla­tive coun­cil in Hong Kong.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.