Protesters surround govt buildings in Hong Kong
Published : Wednesday, 12 June, 2019 at 9:20 AM Count : 315
Thousands of protesters and police in Hong Kong are engaged in a standoff as anger grows over plans to allow extradition to mainland China.
Early on Wednesday protesters, some wearing face masks and helmets, blocked key roads around government buildings.
Police in riot gear responded by using pepper spray on protesters to disperse them and said they were prepared to use force.
The Legislative Council is set to debate the bill within hours.
Despite widespread opposition the government has said it will continue to push for extradition. A final vote is expected on 20 June where the pro-Beijing Legislative Council (LegCo) is expected to pass the bill.
In scenes resembling the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella movement, thousands of protesters - mostly young people and students - have taken to the streets and attempted to block access to government buildings ahead of the debate.
"This behaviour has gone beyond the scope of peaceful gatherings," the Hong Kong Police Force said in a tweet on Wednesday.
"We call on [protesters] to leave as soon as possible... otherwise we will use appropriate force."
Critics of the bill of amendments to the extradition laws cite the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions and forced confessions in the Chinese judicial system.
The government has promised legally binding human rights safeguards and other measures it says should alleviate concerns.
Nevertheless, this has led to the largest rallies the territory has seen since it was handed back to China by the British in 1997.
Police said they are also investigating death threats made against Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam and members of the justice department over the bill.
A wide range of groups have spoken out against extradition to China in recent days including schools, lawyers and businesses, with hundreds of petitions also in circulation.
More than 100 businesses including a magazine have said they will shut to allow their staff to protest for freedom and nearly 4,000 teachers said they would strike.
A number of financial companies, including HSBC, have made flexible work arrangements for Wednesday.
Powerful business lobbies said they fear the plans will damage Hong Kong's competitiveness as a base of operations.
On Sunday, organisers said more than a million people took to the streets holding placards and demanding the government abandon the amendments, though police put the numbers much lower at 240,000.
After the largely peaceful protest, a number of protesters clashed with police outside the LegCo building, leading to injuries and arrests.
The leader of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, has warned against further mass protests and strikes, saying: "I call on schools, parents, institutions, corporations, unions to consider seriously if they advocate these radical actions."
They allow for extradition requests from authorities in mainland China, Taiwan and Macau for suspects accused of criminal wrongdoing such as murder and rape. The requests will then be decided on a case-by-case basis.
The move came after a 19-year-old Hong Kong man allegedly murdered his 20-year-old pregnant girlfriend while they were holidaying in Taiwan together in February last year.
The man fled to Hong Kong and could not be extradited to Taiwan because no extradition treaty exists between the two.
Hong Kong officials have said courts in the territory will have the final say over whether to grant extradition requests, and suspects accused of political and religious crimes will not be extradited.
Critics say people will be subject to arbitrary detention, unfair trial and torture under China's judicial system.
The government has sought to reassure the public with some concessions, including promising to only hand over fugitives for offences carrying a maximum sentence of at least seven years.
According to a schedule set out by Hong Kong's legislature, the bill must be voted on by 20 June.
Hong Kong has entered into extradition agreements with 20 countries, including the UK and the US.
Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 until sovereignty was returned to China in 1997.
Central to the handover was the agreement of the Basic Law, a mini-constitution that gives Hong Kong broad autonomy and sets out certain rights.
Under the "one country, two systems" principle, Hong Kong has kept its judicial independence, its own legislature, its economic system and the Hong Kong dollar.
Its residents were also granted protection of certain human rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech and assembly.
Beijing retains control of foreign and defence affairs, and visas or permits are required for travel between Hong Kong and the mainland.
However, the Basic Law expires in 2047 and what happens to Hong Kong's autonomy after that is unclear.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Monday that Beijing would "continue to firmly support" Hong Kong's government, adding: "We firmly oppose any outside interference in the legislative affairs" of the region.