Massive demonstration chokes Hong Kong as extradition anger boils
HONG KONG-Agence France-Presse
Hundreds of thousands of people rallied in central Hong Kong on June 16 against a reviled extradition law, the latest huge demonstration to pile pressure on the city's embattled leader, despite her weekend climbdown.
The enormous show of force saw protesters chanting "Scrap the evil law!" as they marched through the streets calling for the resignation of chief executive Carrie Lam, who paused work on the hugely divisive bill on June 15 after days of mounting pressure, saying she had misjudged the public mood.
Throngs of black-clad protesters snaked their way through the city's streets in dense crowds heading to the city's parliament -- a repeat of a record-breaking demonstration a week earlier that organisers said more than a million people attended.
Critics fear the Beijing-backed law will entangle people in China's notoriously opaque and politicised courts and damage the city's reputation as a safe business hub.
Although Lam, a pro-Beijing appointee, offered a rare concession on June 15, she stopped short of committing to permanently scrapping the unpopular law.
Her gesture was swiftly rejected by protest leaders who called on her to resign, shelve the bill entirely and apologise for police using tear gas and rubber bullets earlier in the week.
The international finance hub was rocked Wednesday by the worst political violence since before its 1997 handover to China as tens of thousands of protesters were dispersed by baton-wielding riot police.
Many placards in the crowd on June 16 accused police of using excessive force.
"You're supposed to protect us not shoot at us," read one banner.
"The police should not use rubber bullets, tear gas, and bean bag rounds to deal with the students," protester Ben Choi told AFP.
Nearly 80 people were injured in this week's unrest, including 22 police officers, with both sides showing a willingness to escalate their behaviour to levels unseen before in the usually stable business hub.
Huge queues formed outside the high-end Pacific Place mall with flowers and written tributes piling up as demonstrators paid their respects.
For the last decade the city has been convulsed by political turbulence between the pro-Beijing authorities and opponents who fear an increasingly assertive China is stamping on the city's unique freedoms and culture.
Lam's decision to ignore those warnings, and press ahead with the bill even after last weekend's massive rally, has placed her administration under pressure from both her opponents and her own allies.
Advisers and pro-establishment lawmakers urged her to delay the bill after Wednesday's violence while Beijing began to distance itself from her administration.
Her climbdown was also a rare example of the city's unelected leaders caving to demonstrations, something more recent administrations have been increasingly unwilling to do.
Estimates of June 16's crowd size will not be available until the evening but huge amounts of people were still joining the start four hours after the rally set off.
Police opened up more roads than usual with demonstrators packing four major arteries on their way to parliament.
Police said they had no choice but to use force to meet violent protesters who besieged their lines outside the city's parliament on June 12.
But critics -- including legal and rights groups -- say officers used the actions of a tiny group of violent protesters as an excuse to unleash a sweeping crackdown on the predominantly young, peaceful protesters.
"The pro-democracy group will not stop at this point, they want to build on the momentum against Carrie Lam," political analyst Willy Lam told AFP. "They will keep the heat on and ride the momentum."