Hong Kong in limbo as extradition protests crisis deepens
Hong Kong – Hong Kong’s legislature suspended meetings Thursday as leaders considered their next steps following violent clashes between police and protesters opposed to a bill that would allow suspects to be tried in mainland Chinese courts.
Critics say the measure, now on hold, would undermine the city’s cherished legal autonomy amid moves by Beijing to tighten its hold over the former British colony.
Police said they arrested 11 people on charges such as assaulting police officers and unlawful assembly. Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung said 22 officers had been injured. Hospital officials said they treated 81 people for protest-related injuries.
Several hundred young protesters gathered Thursday on a pedestrian bridge, standing for hours and singing “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,” and holding up signs with messages such as, “Don’t Shoot” and “End the Violence.”
The debris-strewn area around the city’s government headquarters, which was besieged by the demonstrators a day earlier, was blocked off by police.
The standoff between police and protesters is Hong Kong’s most severe political crisis since the Communist Party-ruled mainland took control in 1997 with a promise not to interfere with the city’s civil liberties and courts. It poses a profound challenge both to the local leadership and to Chinese President Xi Jinping, the country’s strongest leader in decades who has demanded that Hong Kong follow Beijing’s dictates.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam declared that Wednesday’s violence was “rioting” that was “intolerable in any civilized society that respects the rule of law.” That designation could raise potential legal penalties for those arrested for taking part.
A group of opposition lawmakers attempted to visit Lam’s residence to protest against the police use of force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, against the protesters on Wednesday. They were stopped by police and it was unclear if they would be able to present their complaint.
It’s also unclear how Lam, as chief executive, might defuse the crisis, given Beijing’s strong support for the extradition bill and its distaste for dissent.
Beijing has condemned the protests but so far has not indicated whether it is planning harsher measures. .
Nearly two years ago, Xi issued a stern address in the city stating that Beijing would not tolerate Hong Kong becoming a base for what the Communist Party considers a foreign-inspired campaign to undermine its rule over the vast nation of 1.4 billion people.
Not all in Hong Kong support the protesters. About a dozen older people staged a demonstration in a downtown garden in support of the extradition bill.