Hong Kong police on Wednesday fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters outside government headquarters. The crowd of mostly young people was protesting a proposed bill that would permit criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.
The violence came after protesters forced the delay of a legislative debate over the bill. It has led to another major political crisis for the semi-autonomous city.
The crowd occupied major downtown streets, overturning barriers outside the government building. Protesters could be seen throwing rocks, bottles, umbrellas and other objects at police. The police answered by firing tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and water at the protesters.
A Hong Kong police spokesman defended the decision to use tear gas and other non-deadly weapons. He said officers would not have done so if they were not facing their own danger -- including possible death.
Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung described the demonstration as a riot. “There’s no need to hurt innocent people to express your opinions,” he said, adding that people should not “do anything they will regret for the rest of their lives.”
His words added to concerns that Hong Kong’s government is using public disturbance laws to intimidate political protesters.
The government said Wednesday morning’s legislative session would be “changed to a later time.” Some businesses closed for the day. Students boycotted classes. And unions called for labor strikes.
A protester who gave only his first name, Marco, told the Associated Press, “We want the government to just set the legislation aside and not bring it back.”
Another protester, who gave her name only as King, said, “We have to stand up for our rights or they will be taken away.”
Hong Kong currently limits extraditions only to authorities with which it has existing agreements. China has been excluded from such agreements because of concerns over its human rights record and judicial system.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam had said earlier that the extradition bill seeks to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a place for criminals to hide. Lam said the government has changed the bill in recent months to increase human rights protection. She said that she had not received any orders from China to push the bill forward.
Under its “one country, two systems” rule, Hong Kong was guaranteed the right to its own social, legal and political systems for 50 years following its handover from British rule in 1997.
However, some observers have said China’s ruling Communist Party ignores that agreement by forcing through unpopular legal changes.
On Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry repeated its support for the bill. A ministry spokesman denied China has been interfering in the city’s business in ways that violate the handover agreements. He said, “Hong Kong people’s rights and freedoms have been fully guaranteed in accordance with law.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping has said in the past that he would not permit Hong Kong to have greater self-rule or be used as a base to challenge the Communist Party’s rule.
I'm Jonathan Evans.
Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on Associated Press and other news reports. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
semi-autonomous - adj. having some power or right to govern itself
pepper spray - n. a chemical from pepper that causes temporary blindness and pain to the nose, throat and skin
intimidate - v. to make someone afraid
extradition - to send (a person who has been accused of a crime) to another state, country or territory for trial
challenge - v. to question the action or authority