(Eagle News) — Hong Kong police started to use tear gas, pepper spray and high-pressure water hoses to disperse thousands of protesters rallying against an extradition bill that would allow violators to be brought to China and tried in courts there.
The police started using tear gas after 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 12, as massive protests blocked entry into Hong Kong government headquarters, delaying a legislative session on the proposed extradition bill.
The passage of the bill would mean the end of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle under which the city had been governed since the resumption of Chinese rule in 1997, according to a retired civil servant, HK Lau, who spoke to the Hong Kong Free Press.
Hong Kong papers said that more than a million protesters joined the rally.
The protesters overflowed onto a major downtown road as they overturned barriers and tussled with police outside the building that also houses the chambers where the legislature was to discuss the bill, which would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent for trial in mainland China.
A statement from a Hong Kong administrator earlier said, “I would also like to ask the people in this gathering to stay calm and leave the scene as soon as possible and not to commit any crime.”
Cheung gave no indication of when the delayed legislative debate would begin.
At about 3:30 p.m., Hong Kong officials called on protesters to leave the area where huge crowds are blocking streets to government headquarters and have delayed debate over a highly contentious extradition bill.
The second reading of the bill that would allow suspects to face trials in mainland China was due Wednesday. Protesters and police clashed intermittently, with protesters hurling traffic cones and other objects and police responding with pepper spray.
In a statement read to reporters, Chief Secretary for Administration Mathew Cheung said, “The Hong Kong government calls on people who are blocking roads to … go back to the pavement as soon as possible.”
He added, “I would also like to ask the people in this gathering to stay calm and leave the scene as soon as possible and not to commit any crime.”
Cheung gave no indication of when the legislative debate would begin.
Before this, at 11 a.m., the secretariat of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council said it has delayed the start of a legislative session on a contentious extradition bill as protesters massed outside to block entry to the chamber and government headquarters.
A statement from the government’s press service said the session scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Wednesday would be “changed to a later time to be determined” by the secretariat. Council members would be notified of the time of the meeting later, the statement said.
An overwhelmingly young crowd of demonstrators filled roads in the Wan Chai district to block access to the government offices. Many took the day off from work and classes to press their case that the amendments to the extradition bill would erode the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s civil liberties.
Under its “one country, two systems” framework, Hong Kong was guaranteed its own social, legal and political systems for 50 years following its handover from British rule in 1997. However, China’s ruling Communist Party has been seen as increasingly reneging on that agreement by forcing through unpopular legal changes.
A vote on the amended laws is scheduled for June 20.
(with a report from Associated Press)