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Police clash with thousands of protesters in Hong Kong extradition laws row

World News | Published:

Demonstrators claim the measure signals greater Chinese control.

Hong Kong police have used tear gas, pepper spray and high-pressure water hoses against protesters who have massed outside government buildings.

Thousands of protesters blocked entry to the government headquarters, delaying a legislative session on a proposed extradition bill that has become a lightning rod for concerns over greater Chinese control and erosion of civil liberties in the territory.

A government statement said the session of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council that was scheduled to begin at 11am local time on Wednesday had been “changed to a later time” yet to be decided.

A statement from a Hong Kong administrator earlier urged protesters “to stay calm and leave the scene as soon as possible and not to commit any crime”.

The delay appeared to be at least a temporary victory for the bill’s opponents.

Hong Kong police
Police use pepper spray in a bid to disperse the protesters (Kin Cheung/AP)

They pose a challenge to China’s ruling Communist Party and President Xi Jinping, who has in the past said he would not tolerate Hong Kong being used as a base to challenge the party’s authority. But they are also giving vent to young Hong Kongers alienated by a political process dominated by the territory’s economic elite.

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Protestors and police officials gather near the Legislative Council
Protesters and police officials gather near the Legislative Council (Vincent Yu/AP)

One protester, who gave only his first name Marco, said: “We want the government to just set the legislation aside and not bring it back.”

A fellow protester who gave her name as King said the protest is a watershed moment for Hong Kong’s young generation, who face difficult job prospects and skyrocketing housing prices.

Protesters wear protection gear as they gather near the government headquarters
Protesters wear protection gear as they gather near the government headquarters (Vincent Yu/AP)

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The reluctance of protesters to be identified by their full names and professions – many wore surgical masks to obscure their facial features – reflects an increasingly hard-line approach to civil unrest by the authorities.

Such actions are never tolerated in mainland China and Hong Kong residents can face travel bans and other repercussions if they cross the border.

A female protester holds flowers as she sits in front of officers
A female protester holds flowers as she sits in front of officers (Vincent Yu/AP)

Another statement from the government’s information office said access roads leading to the Central Government Offices were blocked and police had implemented traffic arrangements.

Staff members were advised not to go to into work and those already on the premises were told to “stay at their working place until further notice”.

Hong Kong protests
Policemen in riot gear stand behind protesters using umbrellas to shield themselves (Vincent Yu/AP)

However, China’s ruling Communist Party has been seen as increasingly reneging on that agreement by forcing through unpopular legal changes.

A crowd began gathering outside the Legislative Council on Tuesday night, and the US Consulate warned people to avoid the area, exercise caution and keep a low profile.

Hong Kong protests
The crowds of protesters were mainly made up of young people (Kin Cheung/AP)

Ms Lam has consistently defended the legislation as necessary to close legal loopholes with other countries and territories. A vote is scheduled for June 20.

Critics believe the extradition legislation would put Hong Kong residents at risk of being entrapped in China’s judicial system, in which opponents of Communist Party rule have been charged with economic crimes or ill-defined national security offences, and would not be guaranteed free trials.

Hong Kong protests
Protesters moved barricades to get closer to the Legislative Council building (Vincent Yu/AP)

She emphasised extradition cases would be decided by Hong Kong courts.

Hong Kong currently limits extraditions to jurisdictions with which it has existing agreements and to others on an individual basis. China has been excluded from those agreements because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record.

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