Hong Kong Protest Updates: Senior Official Urges Demonstrators to Disperse – The New York Times

A Hong Kong official urged protesters to go home after tens of thousands of residents blocked lawmakers from entering the Legislative Council, forcing the body to postpone a debate on a bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China.

“We suggest that citizens who are occupying the streets should leave immediately so that traffic could resume as soon as possible,” said Matthew Cheung, the administration’s chief secretary.

“I hope that citizens could stay calm and leave the site soon without committing any crimes,” he said, adding that the bill was aimed only at criminals and would not be used to target political dissidents.

Similar assurances by pro-Beijing politicians have done little to quell the fear or suppress the outrage of regular Hong Kong residents.

Tens of thousands took to the streets outside the council, erecting barricades, stopping traffic and clashing with the police, who used pepper spray and water cannons to disperse the crowds. While the protesters may not ultimately prevent the law from being enacted, their actions on Wednesday delayed the process.

Regina Ip, a pro-Beijing lawmaker and former cabinet minister, and her team were among those unable to enter the council building because protesters had blocked surrounding roads, said Emma Li, a spokeswoman for Ms. Ip’s New People’s Party.

Pro-democracy lawmakers and activists lauded the protests and thanked the people for their efforts.

“We all, myself included, we underestimated people power in Hong Kong,” Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy lawmaker, told a crowd of protesters. “We in particular underestimated the young people’s power in Hong Kong, and we thank you.”

In China, information about the protests was being carefully scrubbed from social media and messaging groups. The ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, published an article Wednesday describing the protesters as colluding with foreign anti-China forces to “create social conflict and obstruct the operation of the legislative council.”

Tens of thousands of young protesters demonstrating on a multilane road outside the Legislative Council erupted in chants of “Chit Wui!” The phrase means “retract it!” in Cantonese, the Chinese dialect spoken in Hong Kong, referring to their calls for the extradition bill to be withdrawn.

As the crowds of protesters swelled, police tried to push them back with water cannons and pepper spray. Some in the crowd unfurled convenience-store umbrellas. Others seized traffic signs and hurled them to the ground with a clatter. The police said some protesters were digging up bricks near the legislative complex. “The police warn demonstrators not to throw bricks because it could cause serious injuries to others, even death, and is strictly illegal,” it said in a tweet.

Some protesters in the crowd said in interviews that they had little hope of forcing the government to back down on the extradition bill. But others, like Grace Tsang, were more optimistic.

Ms. Tsang, 25, said she had come in hopes of a drawing international attention to the bill, and said that she hoped global condemnation could force the government to back down from presenting the bill for a second reading in the local legislature.

“Hong Kong is a civilized city but they don’t listen to the citizens,” Ms. Tsang, who had worn sunglasses and a surgical mask to guard against pepper spray, said of the authorities. “It’s quite ridiculous.”

“We need all people from the world to support us because sometimes we are quite hopeless,” she added.

The city’s police force said some protesters were surrounding police and private cars in a tunnel and “threatening the lives of those who have been surrounded.”

“This behavior has gone beyond the scope of a peaceful gathering,” the statement said. “We call on those who surround the vehicles to leave as soon as possible, otherwise we will use appropriate force.”

The demonstrators, many of them young people in black T-shirts and wearing surgical masks, set up heavy metal barriers on a wide road outside the Legislative Council, as the sound of the metal scraping the asphalt ricocheted through a canyon of skyscrapers. Hundreds of riot police, wearing full face shields and carrying batons, looked on.

The protest recalled the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement five years ago, which shut down several districts in the city — including the very roads that protesters were blocking on Wednesday — but ultimately failed to win any concessions from the government.

One of the protesters, Daniel Yeung, 21, stood on a cement barrier in the center of the road in the shadow of the legislative building, wearing black clothing, a white surgical mask and gardening gloves. The road, normally a busy thoroughfare, was now a sea of black shirts. A city bus stood stalled at the edge of the crowds.

Mr. Yeung said he had come to protest the extradition bill and what he called the “arbitrary” policies of Carrie Lam, the Beijing-backed chief executive of Hong Kong, and President Xi Jinping of China. If the law passes, he said, he feared what the authorities might do. “They’ll think you’re a suspect and send you back to China.”

Small businesses across Hong Kong closed their shops in solidarity with the protesters. A hotel chain offered rooms where protesters could shower and rest free of charge. At some other companies, managers let employees leave work to join the demonstrations, and union leaders told members to find creative ways to participate without calling for a strike, that included the drivers at one bus company pledging to drive below the speed limit.

But Hong Kong’s most powerful voices, those of the large international banks that have long made the city a global financial hub have remained largely quiet on the issue of extradition.

“The extradition bill is worrying because for business it starts to call into question whether there is now a blurred line between politics and business in a city that views itself as a commercial capital that puts business first,” said Tara Joseph, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

While the international business community has mainly worried behind boardroom doors, more than a thousand small local Hong Kong businesses closed their doors on Wednesday.

On Instagram hundreds of coffee shops, restaurants and other businesses posted pictures with the hashtag “#612strike.” One online floral company called Imfloraholic wrote, “Hong Kong is sick, let’s take a day off for some rest! #NoChinaExtradition #612罷市.”

“Striking is the only action we could take against the legislation of the unjust extradition law,” said Yanki Lam, the owner of a shop in the Kowloon section of the city. “Although our power is small, as Hong Kongers, striking is what we could do, and we must voice our concern and show our care to our home.”

Lawmakers are likely to vote on the bill by the end of next week, the head of Hong Kong’s legislature said, despite mass protests over the weekend.

The plan, announced on Tuesday by the chairman of the Legislative Council, Andrew Leung, further inflamed tensions in Hong Kong after Sunday saw one of the largest protests in the semiautonomous Chinese territory’s recent history.

The city’s police force said no violence would be tolerated at any public protests. The South China Morning Post reported that thousands of additional officers had been mobilized.

Mr. Leung said that the bill could go to a vote on June 20 after about 60 hours of debate, adding “the case is pressing and has to be handled as soon as possible.” The measure is likely to pass in the local legislature, where pro-Beijing lawmakers hold 43 of 70 seats.

Opposition lawmakers had expected the vote to take place around the end of the month, based on a regular schedule of meetings. The legislative chairman’s decision to add more meetings in the coming days in order to bring the date of the vote forward quickly drew criticism. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said on Monday that the bill would be pushed through “out of our clear conscience, and our commitment to Hong Kong.”

The bill would allow Hong Kong to detain and transfer people wanted in countries and territories with which it has no formal extradition agreements, including Taiwan and the Chinese mainland.

Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, has said the new law is urgently needed to prosecute a Hong Kong man who is wanted in Taiwan for the murder of his girlfriend. But the authorities in Taiwan, a self-governed island claimed by Beijing, say they would not agree to the extradition arrangement because it would treat Taiwan as part of China.

Critics contend that the law would allow virtually anyone in the city to be picked up and put on trial in mainland China, where judges must follow the orders of the Communist Party. They fear the new law would not just target criminals but political activists as well.

The extradition plan applies to 37 crimes. That excludes political ones, but critics fear the legislation would essentially legalize the sort of abductions to the mainland that have taken place in Hong Kong in recent years. The mainland Chinese authorities are typically not permitted to operate in the semiautonomous territory.

Mike Ives, Tiffany May, Katherine Li, Alexandra Stevenson, Russell Goldman, Gillian Wong and Daniel Victor contributed reporting.

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