Big march in Hong Kong to protest extradition bill
HONG KONG- Reuters
Several hundred thousand people jammed Hong Kong's streets on June 9 in a last bid to thwart a proposed extradition law that would allow suspects to be sent to China to face trial, with police bracing for the biggest march in the city in 15 years.
Police chiefs called for public restraint, government-funded broadcaster RTHK reported, as they mobilized more than 2,000 officers for a march that organizers expected to draw more than half a million people.
That would make it the biggest rally since a similar number turned out in 2003 to challenge government plans for tighter national security laws, which were later shelved.
Police and organizers had yet to give estimates, but as tens of thousands reached the Legislative Council in Admiralty business district, the starting point in Victoria Park was crowded with thousands more still waiting to join the march.
Streets were packed along the route, with Reuters witnesses at various key points estimating the crowd at several hundred strong.
Debates start at the council on June 5 over the amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance. The bill could be passed into law by the end of June.
Chants of "no China extradition, no evil law" echoed through the high-rise city streets, while other marchers called for Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down. One protester held a sign reading "Carry off Carrie.”
Lam has tweaked the proposals but has refused to withdraw the bill, saying it is vital to plug a long-standing "loophole.”
The genial crowd included young families pushing babies in prams as well as the elderly braving 32 degree C (90F) heat, some spraying each other with water misters.
Opposition to the proposed bill has united a broad range of the community, from usually pro-establishment business people and lawyers to students, pro-democracy figures and religious groups.
Insurance agents, executives and small entrepreneurs joined bus drivers and mechanics, with Reuters speaking to dozens of people saying it was their first protest march.
"I come here to fight," said a wheelchair-bound, 78-year-old man surnamed Lai, who was among the first to arrive.
School teacher Garry Chiu joined the protest with his wife and 1-year-old daughter, saying "it is no longer about me.”
"The extradition bill will directly threaten the core values of Hong Kong and rule of law," said 21-year-old Kelvin Tam, a student in London. "It will remove the firewall of Hong Kong judicial independence."
Protests were also being planned in 25 cities globally, including London, Sydney, New York and Chicago.
The changes will simplify case-by-case arrangements to allow extradition of wanted suspects to jurisdictions, including mainland China, Macau and Taiwan, beyond the 20 that Hong Kong already has extradition treaties with.
But it is the prospect of renditions to mainland China that has alarmed many in Hong Kong. The former British colony was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997 amid guarantees of autonomy and freedoms, including a separate legal system.