Thousands call for Hong Kong leader to go

Protesters in Hong Kong are rallying to demand the territory's leader Carrie Lam resign.
Protesters in Hong Kong are rallying to demand the territory's leader Carrie Lam resign.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents, mostly clad in black have braved sweltering weather, and jammed the city's streets in opposition to proposed legislation that has stoked fears of expanding control from Beijing in this former British colony.

The protesters are demanding that Hong Kong's leader first scrap an extradition bill that would allow some suspects to be sent for trial in mainland China and then resign.

The conflict, which slipped into unusually violent clashes with police last week, is one of the toughest tests of the territory's special status since China took control in a 1997 handover.

The demonstrators carried banners demanding that Chief Executive Carrie Lam step down and repeatedly broke into chants. Walking slowly and shouting "withdraw" and "resign," the crowd filled a wide thoroughfare and side streets paralleling the waterfront of Victoria Harbour as tourists and shoppers who drive much of the Asian financial hub's economy looked on.

Lam's announcement on Saturday that she was suspending the legislation failed to mollify critics of the measure who see it as one of many steps chipping away at Hong Kong's freedoms and legal autonomy. Opponents worry the law could be used to send criminal suspects to China to potentially face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials.

"Our demands are simple. Carrie Lam must leave office, the extradition law must be withdrawn and the police must apologise for using extreme violence against their own people," bank worker John Chow said as he marched with a group of his friends. "And we will continue."

Sunday's march looked likely to match in scale one a week earlier that brought as many as 1 million people out to express their concern over Hong Kong's relations with mainland China. Protesters focused their anger on Lam, even while acknowledging that she had little choice but to carry through dictates issued by Beijing, where President Xi Jinping has enforced increasingly authoritarian rule.

Many believe Hong Kong's legal autonomy has been significantly diminished despite Beijing's insistence that it is still honouring its promise, dubbed "one country, two systems," that the territory can retain its own social, legal and political system for 50 years after the handover.

By the early evening, local time, thousands of protesters were still gathered outside government headquarters, although there were no signs of a replay of the violence that broke out at the same spot last week.

Many protesters wore ribbons on their shirts and carried placards showing protesters who had been beaten bloody there Wednesday.

"I'm really sad. I'm grieving," one visitor, Peron Kwong, said after tying a white ribbon to a street rail. "As a person born and raised in Hong Kong, I'm heartbroken when I see Hong Kong become like this."

Pro-democracy activists were calling for a general strike on Monday despite Lam's decision to suspend work on the legislation. Some labour unions, teachers associations and other groups were planning boycotts of work and classes, demanding the Lam administration retire the proposed amendments and not bring them up again for passage at a later stage.

Australian Associated Press