Hong Kong shuts government offices; security tight after violent protests

Lam says the proposals have been modified to safeguard human rights, but Ted Hui, a member of the Legislative Council (Legco), Hong Kong's parliament, says that pro-democracy legislators like him have not been able to add key amendments meant to reinforce human rights protections.

On Friday, one of the key advisers to Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, Executive Council member Bernard Chan, told Cable TV he did not think a formal discussion of the bill, a precursor to a final vote by the legislature, should continue at present.

Some US legislators have "made irresponsible remarks about Hong Kong affairs and violently interfered in China's internal affairs", Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Friday. The government is considering options including a pause, rather than withdrawing the bill, the South China Morning Post reported, citing unidentified sources. He said a delay might be one possibility. "The US has used this illegal technique to imprison foreign nationals at Guantanamo Bay for decades without recourse to any legal constraints", he said. "For the United States to criticize anyone for potentially abusing an extradition agreement is beyond the pale", the analyst said.

Despite the calm on Friday, more protests loom this weekend.

I reiterate this is not a call to clear the (protest) crowd.

The extradition bill, which will cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or travelling through the city, has sparked concern it may threaten the rule of law that underpins Hong Kong's global financial status.

Beyond the concerns about the legal changes, protesters are also uneasy about a deeper issue.

In an editorial featuring a photo of a bloodied officer, the state-run China Daily said Wednesday evening that protesters are using the bill "to tarnish the image of the government".

"We urge the USA side to treat the Hong Kong government objectively and fairly and respect its normal legislative process", the statement cited Le as saying.

Canada and China are locked in a diplomatic standoff over last December's arrest in Vancouver of high-tech scion and Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who is the target of a USA extradition request on charges of violating American sanctions against Iran.

Any other Sunday in summer at Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, old men and women would do their usual walkabouts and maids would gather, spread out groundsheets, cover them with spicy delicacies and listen to Filipino pop songs.

Tens of thousands returned to the Hong Kong legislature Wednesday for a protest that postponed debate on the controversial bill descended into violence later in the day, as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds of mostly young people.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong-the largest political party in the Legislative Council-urged opponents not to deteriorate the already chaotic situation in the council, nor to jeopardize its constitutional duties to scrutinize bills. "Carrie Lam is determined, but we are also determined, so let's see". "There's a possibility Beijing might strike a compromise and the blame will be put on Carrie Lam".

Police officers fired tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets at demonstrators on Wednesday. Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung said 22 officers had been injured in the fracas and hospitals said they had treated 81 people for protest-related injuries.

"These [protesters] are your classmates, your relative, you neighbors!" a Hong Kong resident shouted to the police while trying to persuade them not to use force.

The bill would enable the chief executive and local courts to handle extradition requests without legislative oversight, though lawyers, journalists, foreign politicians and businesses have raised concerns over the risk of residents being extradited to the mainland, which lacks human rights protections. She has said the courts would provide human rights safeguards.

Beijing has condemned the protests but so far has not indicated whether it is planning harsher measures. Critics fear the law could be used to undermine Hong Kong's civil liberties.

Lam, the chief executive, declared that Wednesday's violence was "rioting", potentially raising severe legal penalties for those arrested for taking part.

Ortagus said people are protesting the proposed extradition legislation "because they don't want to be subjugated to the Chinese as it relates to some of their fundamental rights".

China may ban any public mention of its Tiananmen Square protests 30 years ago. Anger and despair are widespread and so is a sense of powerlessness at the way the relationship between Hong Kong and China has dramatically changed during the past five years. Among them, Swedish citizen Gui Minhai is under investigation for allegedly leaking state secrets after he sold gossipy books about Chinese leaders.

  • Leroy Wright