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Thousands dressed in black gather at Victoria Park to march against extradition bill in Hong Kong

Protesters arriving at Victoria Park in Hong Kong for the start of the march, on June 16, 2019. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

Pan Pacific Agency | COMMUICATION AGENCY FOR PACIFICA REGIONS

HONG KONG, Jun 16, 2019, The Straits Times. Trains in Hong Kong on Sunday (June 16) were packed with people dressed in black headed to Victoria Park to join a march against a divisive extradition Bill, reported The Straits Times.

By 2pm, participants of the march filled up an area about the size of a football field at the park in Causeway Bay. A number were holding flowers in tribute to a man who died on Saturday evening after falling from the roof of the Pacific Place shopping centre in Admiralty, apparently while protesting against the Bill.

Subway operator MTR Corporation said that trains had to skip Tin Hau station, which is near Victoria Park, as the station was overcrowded.

Ms Hebe Lau, in her 30s and working in finance, told The Straits Times that she was at the rally to send a signal to the Hong Kong government that the Bill must be withdrawn.

“Postponing is just an excuse to all Hong Kong citizens and cannot even be considered a victory at all,” she said.

At the park, activists set up gazebos as protesters, some carrying flowers, gathered in sweltering summer heat to march from Victoria Park to Hong Kong’s central government offices, according to Reuters.

Along the protest route, supply stands were set up, with volunteers giving out bottles of water, snacks and even umbrellas. Entire families with children were also seen heading towards Causeway Bay.

In Wanchai, protesters lining Hennessy Road held red signs that read “stop killing us” in English and Chinese.

Thousands are expected to take to the streets on Sunday to continue protesting against the postponed extradition Bill and calling on the city’s embattled leader Carrie Lam to resign, a week after a million people came out to oppose the legislation.

Following a week that had protesters surround the legislature to prevent lawmakers from discussing the Bill – resulting in clashes that saw police deploy tear gas and rubber bullets – Mrs Lam announced on Saturday that the Bill would be indefinitely postponed. She also admitted that she had misread the public mood.

In an hour-long press conference, the Chief Executive also defended the police, who earlier said they had no choice but to use force against violent protesters who surrounded the Legislative Council Complex last Wednesday.

But protest leaders say the move to suspend the Bill indefinitely is simply an attempt to kick the issue into the long grass. Hence, they are going ahead with the planned rally on Sunday, where they are hoping for another massive turnout mirroring the previous weekend’s.

“We have been lied to many times before when the government said they will postpone projects. But after the social pressure has eased, they go on to do it anyway,” said Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) vice-convenor Bonnie Leung on Saturday.

The march was expected to start at 2.30pm at Victoria Park on the main island and head to the city’s Parliament, similar to last weekend’s route.

A coalition of pro-democracy lawmakers and advocacy groups, CHRF has been at the forefront of the movement opposing the Bill. They have vowed to continue protesting until the Bill is completely withdrawn.

The group is also calling on Mrs Lam to step down, saying that her reaction to the public furore is “arrogant, ignorant and indifferent”.

Anger has also been fanned by Mrs Lam and senior officers calling the street demonstrators “rioters”. The group is calling for police to drop charges against anyone arrested for rioting and other offences linked to last Wednesday’s clashes.

The extradition Bill was initially scheduled to be debated in the Legislative Council (LegCo) last Wednesday but was postponed twice after thousands of protesters heeded calls to surround the government headquarters in Admiralty.

Police said they had no choice but to use force to meet violent protesters who besieged their lines outside the city’s Parliament, but critics say it was excessive against peaceful, unarmed and mostly young protesters.

“We will adopt the most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements, so that we can continue to connect with the people of Hong Kong,” Mrs Lam told reporters at a press conference on Saturday to announce the Bill’s delay.

But she insisted that the Bill is not being withdrawn, stressing that the government remains focused on the Taiwan murder case and loopholes in the city’s extradition agreements.

“We might not be able to deal with the first one. But we still need to plug loopholes. So at this stage, I don’t think the Bill can be withdrawn,” she said.

If passed into law, the Bill will allow for case-by-case handovers of fugitives to jurisdictions with whom Hong Kong does not have an extradition agreement.

The Bill was first mooted in February following the murder of a Hong Kong woman by her Hong Konger boyfriend in Taiwan. The man, Chan Tong Kai, escaped prosecution in Taiwan by simply returning home, since Hong Kong does not have an extradition agreement with Taiwan.

If passed, the Bill will also create a legal mechanism allowing for suspected criminals to be handed over to the mainland, which many fear could be used on political dissidents and activists.

Under “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong has a separate Constitution and judiciary from the mainland, with its residents guaranteed liberties unseen in China, including a free press and the right to protest.

But there are growing concerns that this has been gradually eroded in the last few years: booksellers who specialise in salacious tomes about the Communist Party leadership have disappeared and resurfaced in the mainland confessing to crimes; a proposed law barring insult of the Chinese national anthem is making its way through the LegCo; and a pro-democracy political party was recently outlawed.

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