Extradition bill debate postponed for second time after HK protests

14-Jun-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen has again postponed a debate on Hong Kong’s polarising extradition bill, after thousands of protesters blocked access to the legislature in Admiralty on Wednesday.

Officials made the announcement as the city began picking up the pieces in the aftermath of violent clashes in which almost 80 people, including protesters, police officers and journalists, were injured.

Wednesday’s protest turned violent in the afternoon when riot police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray at protesters, who hurled a variety of objects at officers, and repeatedly tried to push through their defensive lines.

On Thursday morning, Legco’s secretariat issued a circular on behalf of Leung, who has kept a low profile over the past 24 hours, that said no meeting would be held, a day after protesters forced the second reading of the legislation to be called off.

“Members will be notified of the time of the meeting once it is determined by the president,” the circular read.

Pro-establishment sources said Leung and other government supporters spent Wednesday at the Central Police District Headquarters as they could not enter the legislature.

Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, of the pro-democracy People’s Power, said the government and pro-establishment camp may want to delay the meeting until public anger at the bill dissipates.

“But it will not work, as long as they don’t retract the bill, people are ready for further action,” said Chan, adding that pan-democrats wanted to meet Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Thursday.

Pan-democratic bloc convenor Claudia Mo said the debate should be indefinitely suspended until Lam agreed to shelve the bill.

According to Legco’s rule book, Leung must give notice to lawmakers before calling a meeting, but it is not specified how much time should be given.

Pro-establishment camp rebel Michael Tien Puk-sun said the government could be considering further amendments to the legislation.

“Now that the premises are unblocked, why is there no meeting? I think security is no longer a strong reason,” said Tien, who has urged Lam to further water down the bill.

If passed, the legislation would allow the city to transfer suspects to jurisdictions it lacks extradition agreements with, including mainland China, on a case-by-case basis.

Critics fear Beijing could abuse the proposed arrangement, while there are also concerns over the fairness of the justice system on the mainland.

Felix Chung Kwok-pan, the Liberal Party leader, said a meeting should only be called after the area around the Legco complex had been made safe.

Outside the legislature, sections of road in Admiralty that were occupied on Wednesday, including Tim Mei Avenue, Tim Wa Avenue, and Lung Wo Road, had been cleared up.

But at least 100 young people, many donning black and wearing face masks, gathered on the footbridge outside the United Centre, holding placards that read “#Retract”.

They were faced by dozens of police offices behind barricades. Tensions also flared in Tamar Park, as police stopped and searched protesters.

Some youngsters were also seen returning to pick up masks, goggles and first aid material from where they had been left on Harcourt Road.

Protesters said there was no plan for further action, and those in the park started to leave after it was announced the debate had been postponed, although some 300 protesters remained nearby.

Meanwhile, at least two protesters were arrested on Wednesday for rioting, the Post has learned.

One legal source said both arrests were made after Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung described the clashes as riot on Wednesday afternoon.

The pair were not arrested near Legco or government headquarters in Admiralty, where the clashes took place, but instead were taken into custody when they went to Queen Elisabeth’s Hospital in Kowloon to seek treatment for injuries sustained in the unrest.

“They were arrested after medics saw bruises caused by beanbag rounds, and the pair acknowledged it was due to clashes in Admiralty,” the source said.

Other protesters are believed to have been arrested for unlawful assembly, and the Post has asked police for the exact number of arrests made on Wednesday.

As of Thursday morning, 79 people had reportedly been injured during the clashes.

Among them, two men were in serious condition in Queen Mary Hospital, in Pok Fu Lam, while 13 others, including nine men and four women, were stable and in other hospitals around the city. The remaining 64 people have been discharged.

The protest also took its toll on a construction site at Hutchison House in Central, where workers arrived to find materials had been used as barricades and machinery damaged.

One contractor told the Post that an excavator had been damaged and the key was also missing. The lift for carrying workers upstairs at the building site had also been flooded.

“We may have lost over HK$1 million,” he said.

Earlier, protesters had been seen with buckets of an unidentified liquid in red and the contractor said it was possible it had been diesel oil.

“Diesel is not flammable itself, unless burned together with rubbish,” he said. “But if the oil is spilled over the ground, it could easily cause traffic accidents.”

Speaking on a radio programme on Thursday, Joseph Wong Wing-ping, a former secretary for the civil service, claimed police had attacked unarmed protesters.

“The police were aiming at protesters as they fired guns with rubber bullets, treating them like prey,” he said, “I saw a lot of videos of a group of officers hitting unarmed protesters.”

But Ip Kwok-him, an adviser to Lam in the Executive Council, said police had acted with restrain.

“I agree with the police for taking the necessary action with their safety under threat, and I am very proud of having such disciplinary forces,” he said.

Separately, the European Union said in a statement the rights of peaceful assembly and expression were fundamental ones and need to be respected.

It called on all sides to exercise restraint, while “violence and escalatory responses must be avoided”.

The EU also reiterated that it shared concerns over the extradition bill, and called for an “in-depth, inclusive public consultation”.

It added: “This is a sensitive issue, with potentially far-reaching consequences for Hong Kong and its people, for EU and foreign citizens, as well as for business confidence in Hong Kong.”



Category: Hong Kong

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