Thousands of protesters again hit Hong Kong streets

2019-06-21 13:44
Protesters occupy a main road outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong. (Anthony Wallace, AFP)

Protesters occupy a main road outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong. (Anthony Wallace, AFP)

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Thousands of people gathered in Hong Kong on Friday calling for the territory's leader to resign and for the government to scrap a controversial extradition bill.

Responding to calls on social media, demonstrators started arriving outside the Legislative Council Complex at about 07:00 (23:00 GMT on Thursday).

People were urged to renew their protests after a Thursday afternoon deadline for the government to respond to their demands passed without any official response. Many were students dressed in black.

An athletics coach named Ho, 19, who uses the nickname Annikan, said the mood over the past two weeks was changing and getting "messy".

"The government doesn't want to cancel the bill or release our people," he said, referring to dozens of detained protesters.

"We don't hope for violence [today] but are ready for it. Our medical station is well supplied."

People in Hong Kong have marched in their millions this month to oppose a bill they fear will undermine Hong Kong's judicial independence and tighten China's grip on the semi-autonomous region.

The movement has expanded into a larger rebuke of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who announced on June 15 that she would suspend the bill, but stopped short of withdrawing it completely.

Picnic protest

Protesters were asked to "hold picnics" outside the legislature, which was closed in anticipation of the rallies.

Organisers have also called for a go-slow protest on roads and public transport and urged people to gather in other parts of the city to show their support.

"The government still hasn't responded to our demands," Poyee Chan, 28, told AFP news agency.

"After so many days ... they are all talking rubbish and shifting the blame on one another, so I feel we need to come out and tell them: We citizens won't accept such fake responses."

Al Jazeera's Rob McBride said that while the organisers had said they were seeking to bring Hong Kong to a standstill, the government itself had pre-empted that attempt by closing the legislature and government complex and giving staff the day off.

He added that the rallies risked losing momentum after two million marched through the streets last Sunday, he said.

"You definitely get a sense that we are reaching some kind of hiatus," McBride said from outside the legislature.

"Organisers have not called for another mass rally. Part of the problem is how do you beat two million people. (But) the reason for their protest; the cases that has got people onto the streets in such numbers has been defused by the government itself by suspending this extradition bill. For the moment at least the government has backed off."

Some at the government complex brought placards asking the police not to shoot at them, in a reference to outbreaks of violence that marred last week's rallies when police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets and bean bags at protesters.

Since it was returned to China in 1997, Hong Kong has been governed under the so-called "one country, two systems" formula that allows the city's residents freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China.

But many people in Hong Kong are increasingly fearful of Beijing's tightening grip over the city and what they see as an erosion of civil liberties.

Opposition to the bill has united pro-democracy and human rights groups with student activists and the traditionally more conservative business and financial communities, amid concern the proposals will expose people to the mainland's opaque and politicised judicial system and undermine Hong Kong's status as a global financial centre.

An athletics coach named Ho, 19, who uses the nickname Annikan, said the mood over the past two weeks was changing and getting "messy".

"The government doesn't want to cancel the bill or release our people," he said, referring to dozens of detained protesters.

"We don't hope for violence [today] but are ready for it. Our medical station is well supplied."

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