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Hong Kong extradition bill: Protesters return to streets despite suspension

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Thousands of people protested in Hong Kong on Sunday against a controversial extradition bill, despite a government decision to suspend the bill.

The new law, which would have allowed extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China, prompted hundreds of thousands to demonstrate in the past week.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Saturday that the plans had been “suspended” for the time being.

But protest leaders demanded that the bill was scrapped.

Some have called on Ms Lam to resign over the unrest.

By early Sunday afternoon, large crowds had gathered in the city’s Victoria Square, many wearing black or carrying white flowers.

Organisers said they hoped more than a million people would attend, though no formal estimates of the crowd have yet been made.

The progress of the march was slow, as the large numbers of people blocked many streets and crowded train stations.

Some carried placards accusing China of “killing” Hong Kong residents, others held white flowers to mourn a protester who fell to his death on Saturday after climbing a ledge to unfurl an anti-extradition banner.

Protesters also carried placards that read “the students did not riot”, in response to police labelling Wednesday’s student protests a riot – an offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

There was scepticism among some protesters about Ms Lam’s decision to suspend the bill.

“Carrie Lam has ignored the feelings of Hong Kongers,” said Mr Ma, a 67-year-old protester. He said Ms Lam had “acted like it was no big deal” after a reported million people marched last week.

“Secondly, we are marching for the students who were brutally treated by the police,” he said. “We need to get justice for them.”

Emily Lau, a pro-democracy campaigner and former leader of the Democratic Party, told the BBC that activists were “just livid” about the actions of the government and police.

“They think she is really disgraceful and despicable and she would not apologise for the police atrocity and she insists on prosecuting the people arrested for rioting, which could attract a 10-year prison sentence. This is ridiculous,” she said.

What is the controversy about?

Hong Kong is a former British colony, but was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal that guarantees it a level of autonomy.

The government had argued the proposed extradition bill would “plug the loopholes” so that the city would not be a safe haven for criminals, following a murder case in Taiwan.

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Critics have said the legislation would expose people in Hong Kong to China’s deeply flawed justice system and lead to further erosion of the city’s judicial independence.

Many fear the law could be used to target political opponents of the Chinese state. A large-scale march, which organisers said drew more than one million people, was held last Sunday.

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On Wednesday tens of thousands gathered to blockade streets around government headquarters to try to stop the second reading, or debate, of the extradition bill.

There were clashes and 22 police and 60 protesters were injured. Authorities say 11 people were arrested. The police have been accused by some rights groups of excessive force.

Why the anger at Carrie Lam?

Much of the public anger has been directed at Ms Lam, the region’s elected chief executive – who is firmly supported by Beijing.

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Part of that anger comes from a tearful address after Wednesday’s violence in which she labelled the protests “organised riots” – a label rejected by the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protests.

Ms Lam remained hidden from public view for days, until her announcement on Saturday the she had heard the calls for her government to “pause and think”. But she stopped short of saying the bill would be permanently shelved.

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There has been speculation among analysts about Ms Lam’s future amid the continued protests, but China’s foreign ministry publicly backed her on Saturday.

“Beijing is very upset with Carrie Lam saying she has no ability,” Emily Lau told the BBC. “So, I think she is really in grave danger”.

For her part, Ms Lam has insisted the extradition bill – and its subsequent suspension – came entirely from her own initiative and was not suggested or pushed by Beijing authorities.

Is Hong Kong part of China?

Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841, when China ceded the island to the British after the First Opium War – which had erupted over British traders smuggling opium into China. It remained a colony until sovereignty was returned to China in 1997.

It is now part of China under a “one country, two systems” principle, which ensures that it keeps its own judicial independence, its own legislature and economic system.

It is what China calls a special administrative region – enjoying a great deal of autonomy that has made it a key business and media hub in the region.

But it remains subject to pressure from mainland China, and Beijing remains responsible for defence and foreign affairs.

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BBC News – World

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