HONG KONG: Hundreds of thousands of protesters choked Hong Kong’s streets for a second straight Sunday in a defiant rebuke of a reviled extradition law, piling pressure on the city’s embattled pro-Beijing leader despite a weekend climb-down.
The show of force saw huge crowds marching for hours in tropical heat, calling for the resignation of chief executive Carrie Lam, who paused work on the divisive bill Saturday saying she had misjudged the public mood.
Throngs of black-clad protesters snaked their way for miles through the city’s streets to the city’s parliament — a repeat of a record-breaking demonstration last Sunday that organisers said more than a million people attended.
As night fell the huge crowds were still marching, but they had also taken over multiple major thoroughfares, with the police seemingly ceding the streets to the jubilant masses.
Critics fear the Beijing-backed law will entangle people in China’s courts and damage the city’s reputation as a safe business hub. Although Lam offered a rare concession on Saturday, she stopped short of committing to permanently scrapping the unpopular law.
Her gesture was swiftly rejected by protest leaders who called on her to resign, shelve the bill entirely and apologise for police using teargas and rubber bullets earlier in the week.
“The pro-democracy group will not stop at this point, they want to build on the momentum against Carrie Lam,” political analyst Willy Lam told AFP. “They will keep the heat on and ride the momentum.”
The international finance hub was rocked Wednesday by the worst political violence in decades as tens of thousands of protesters were dispersed by baton-wielding riot police. Many placards in the crowd Sunday accused police of using excessive force.
“You’re supposed to protect us not shoot at us,” read one banner.
Nearly 80 people were injured in this week’s unrest, including 22 police officers, with both sides showing a willingness to escalate their behaviour to levels unseen before in the usually stable business hub. One man died late Saturday when he fell from a building where he had been holding an hours-long anti-extradition protest. He had unfurled a banner on scaffolding attached to an upscale mall, but fell when rescuers tried to haul him in. Police said they suspected the 35-year-old man was suicidal. Throughout the day, demonstrators queued for hours to leave flowers and tributes where he fell.