Hong Kong was plunged into chaos again on Thursday as protesters rallied outside the justice secretary’s offices, blocking roads and forcing workers to leave in the latest unrest to rock the city over an extradition bill that has now been suspended.
Millions have thronged the streets in the past three weeks to demand that the bill, which would allow criminal suspects to be sent to the mainland for trial in courts controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, be scrapped altogether.
“This movement is very successful because this time the goal is very clear,” said one protester, Ken Yau, drawing a contrast with Hong Kong’s 2014 democracy movement that gridlocked parts of the Asian financial centre for 79 days.
“I was 11 when the Umbrella Movement happened. I only went to the occupied sites a few times with my family.”
In sweltering heat of 32 degrees C, some protesters chanted, “Withdraw evil law, release martyrs... Teresa Cheng, come out,” referring to the justice secretary. Others shouted, “Condemn excessive force by police and release protesters.”
Police formed a cordon to block the demonstrators, and one officer held a banner warning them away. Minor scuffles broke out between pro-democracy group Demosisto and officers.
“Fight for Justice,” “Free Hong Kong,” and “Democracy Now” were some of the demands emblazoned on the protesters’ banners.
Police chief Stephen Lo warned of consequences for outbreaks of violence and condemned what he said was an environment of hostility making his officers’s task difficult.
In the early hours, riot police, wielding batons and shields, chased dozens of protesters as they broke up a siege of police headquarters.
The demonstrators have seized on this week’s G20 summit of world leaders in Japan to appeal for Hong Kong’s plight to be put on the agenda, a move certain to rile Beijing, which has vowed not to tolerate such discussion.
“We know that the G20 is coming. We want to grasp this opportunity to voice for ourselves,” said Jack Cool Tsang, 30, a theatre technician who took a day off work to protest.
Images of police firing rubber bullets and tear gas beneath gleaming skyscrapers this month near the heart of the financial centre grabbed global headlines and drew condemnation from international rights groups and protest organizers.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who has kept a low profile over the past few days, bowed to public pressure and suspended the bill a day after the violent protests, but stopped short of a full withdrawal and rejected calls to step down.
The demonstrations, which pose the greatest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012, have repeatedly forced the temporary closure of government offices, blocked major roads and caused massive disruptions.
Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the liberty to protest and an independent judiciary.
But many accuse China of increased meddling over the years, by obstructing democratic reform, interfering with elections, suppressing young activists, as well as being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.
Opponents of the extradition bill fear being placed at the mercy of a justice system rights group say is plagued by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detentions.