Hong Kong’s lawmakers were forced to delay debate on a controversial extradition bill after thousands of mostly student protesters blocked the entrance to the territory’s Legislative Council.
The South China Morning Post reports, “In a fresh display of defiance … protesters who had camped overnight at Tamar Park in Hong Kong began stopping traffic from accessing the legislature on Wednesday morning, as the government’s proposal returns to a full council meeting.”
The protesters — most wearing surgical masks to hide their identities — gathered in the city’s Wan Chai district as they chanted “block the bill!” in the local Cantonese dialect.
In scenes reminiscent of protests in 2014 that brought the Asian financial hub to a standstill, protesters thronged the city’s main thoroughfares. NPR’s Rob Schmitz, reporting from Hong Kong, said rows of riot police with shields had surrounded the crowds.
The standoff on Wednesday was a continuation of protests that began on Sunday and drew more than a million people, according to organizers. They sought to shut down consideration of the bill that would allow people accused in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial, a move that protesters say violates the “one country, two systems” framework guaranteed to Hong Kong when British rule ended in 1997.
Hong Kong’s legislature is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority and the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, owes her position to mainland Chinese authorities.
Lam has vowed to press ahead with the extradition bill, which was first proposed in February and which supporters have described as an effort to close a legal loophole in Hong Kong and Macau, a former Portuguese colony handed back to China in 1999.
Despite assurances enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law that it would enjoy a “high-degree of autonomy” after the handover, Beijing has steadily chipped away at such guarantees and reneged on a promise to allow open legislative elections.