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Hong Kong extradition bill: Large-scale march under way

Protesters gather to attend a new rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019

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AFP

Image caption

Organisers say they hope one million people will take part in the march

Thousands of people are marching on government buildings in Hong Kong over a controversial extradition bill, despite a government climb-down.

The bill, which would have allowed extradition to mainland China, prompted hundreds of thousands to demonstrate in the past week.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Saturday that the plans had been “suspended” for the time being.

Protest leaders, however, are demanding it be permanently scrapped.

Some have urged Ms Lam to resign over the unrest.

By early Sunday afternoon, large crowds had gathered in the city’s Victoria Square, many wearing black or carrying white flowers.

As the march got under way, progress was slow as sheer numbers blocked off many streets, and crowded train stations continued to funnel people into the city centre.

Many carried placards accusing China of “killing” Hong Kong residents, while others bore messages of support for the injured or calling for Ms Lam to step down.

Heightened anger

By Helier Cheung, BBC News, Hong Kong

Last week Hong Kong’s streets were packed with protesters in white. This time, Victoria Park’s football pitches were filled with demonstrators wearing black to express their anger at the government.

Many held white flowers to mourn an protester who fell to his death on Saturday after climbing a ledge to unfurl an anti-extradition banner.

Others held placards that read “the students did not riot” – reflecting the anger at the police labelling Wednesday’s student protests a riot – an offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

Carrie Lam may have paused the bill – but several protesters told me they were unconvinced, and wanted the bill withdrawn altogether.

Some were protesting on this issue for the first time – saying the police’s use on force on Wednesday had spurred them to take part today.

What is the controversy about?

Protesters are concerned at increased influence by Beijing in Hong Kong, and the demonstrations over the bill have sparked some of the worst violence seen in years.

Hong Kong is a former British colony, but was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal that guarantees it a level of autonomy.

The government had argued the proposed extradition bill would “plug the loopholes” so that the city would not be a safe haven for criminals, following a murder case in Taiwan.

Critics have said the legislation would expose people in Hong Kong to China’s deeply flawed justice system and lead to further erosion of the city’s judicial independence.

On Saturday, after days of protests, Ms Lam said she had heard the calls for her government to “pause and think”.

Media captionCarrie Lam expressed ‘deep sorrow’ over extradition law controversy

“I feel deep sorrow and regret that deficiencies in our work – and various other factors – have stirred up substantial controversies,” she added.

But she stopped short of saying the bill would be permanently shelved.

China’s foreign ministry publicly backed Ms Lam after her announcement.

Why is there concern about China?

Media captionThe BBC’s Helier Cheung on why people are taking to the streets in Hong Kong

The changes would allow for criminal extradition requests from authorities in mainland China, Taiwan and Macau – decided on a case-by-case basis by Hong Kong courts.

But many fear the law could be used to target political opponents of the Chinese state.

Opposition activists also cite the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions and forced confessions in mainland China.

It comes after a high-profile case where a Hong Kong man was accused of murdering his girlfriend on holiday in Taiwan but could not be extradited.

Taiwanese officials are against the changes – due to their own concerns about the impact they could have.

Taiwan is in effect independent, but China considers it a breakaway province.

The government there has even said it would not accept the extradition of the accused man if it was under the proposed new rules.

How did protests unfold?

Media captionHow Hong Kong demonstrators organised protests

A large-scale march, which organisers said drew more than one million people, was held last Sunday.

Then on Wednesday tens of thousands gathered to blockade streets around government headquarters to try to stop the second reading, or debate, of the extradition bill.

Tensions boiled over and 22 police and 60 protesters were injured. Authorities say 11 people were arrested.

The police have been accused of excessive force by some rights groups.

Media captionPolice use tear gas on protesters

Until Saturday’s announcement, Ms Lam had not spoken publicly since she labelled the protests “organised riots” during a tearful address.

Is Hong Kong part of China?

Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841, when China ceded the island to the British after the First Opium War – which had erupted over British traders smuggling opium into China. It remained a colony until sovereignty was returned to China in 1997.

It is now part of China under a “one country, two systems” principle, which ensures that it keeps its own judicial independence, its own legislature and economic system.

It is what China calls a special administrative region – enjoying a great deal of autonomy that has made it a key business and media hub in the region.

But it remains subject to pressure from mainland China, and Beijing remains responsible for defence and foreign affairs.


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Hong Kong extradition bill: Large-scale march under way

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