Hong Kong delays 2nd reading of extradition Bill as sense of calm returns to city after unrest

Life returned to some semblance of normalcy in Hong Kong on June 13, 2019, though the roads near the Legislative Council and government offices in Admiralty remained closed. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG - Debate on an extradition Bill that sparked mass protests in Hong Kong was postponed for a second day on Thursday (June 13) as a sense of calm slowly returned to the city.

The Legislative Council (LegCo) secretariat informed lawmakers that the second reading of the controversial Bill allowing extradition to mainland China would be delayed to a later date.

The reading could not take place as scheduled on Wednesday, as protesters surrounded the city legislature.

A massive rally that day sparked violent clashes between protesters and the police, leaving 81 people injured and 11 others arrested.

Even as life returned to some semblance of normalcy in Hong Kong, the roads near the LegCo and government offices in Admiralty remained closed as workers, protesters and officers sought to remove the debris and rubbish that had been left behind.

Security in the LegCo area was tight and the Central Government Offices were closed for the rest of the week. Admiralty metro station resumed service only at 2pm, 18 hours after it was suspended.

Hundreds of protesters were seen in Admiralty. Some were there to help clear the debris while others were there to see whether the debate would take place.

Many became upset with police officers deployed to block overhead walkways or areas where the protesters gathered.

Debris and rubbish outside Hong Kong's Legislative Council building on June 13, 2019, a day after violent clashes during a protest against an extradition Bill. PHOTO: REUTERS

Labour Party politician Fernando Cheung later broke the news to protesters that there would be no debate, and urged them to go home.

Chinese state media said in editorials published on Thursday that the protests were "hammering" Hong Kong's reputation.

"It is lawlessness that will hurt Hong Kong, not the proposed amendments to its fugitive law," said the English-language China Daily.

The Civil Human Rights Front, a pro-democracy coalition that organised the million-strong rally on Sunday, renewed calls for another rally to be held this coming Sunday to pressure the authorities to scrap the extradition Bill.

The coalition also called for a city-wide general strike next Monday and was seeking police permission for both.

And pressure is mounting for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to resign, with some 200 members of the influential chief executive election committee calling on her to quit and withdraw the Bill.

The members want her to assume responsibility for the violent enforcement against protesters.

On Wednesday night, hundreds of young protesters took over roads in Central, paralysing traffic. Another huge group confronted the police in Admiralty on Queensway until about 2am, when they dispersed.

They demanded that Mrs Lam back down from the extradition Bill, as they did not trust Beijing's opaque legal system and said the Bill could be used to target political opponents of China.

But she has vowed to push on, saying the Bill has enough safeguards. Mrs Lam accused the protesters of orchestrating a riot, an offence that carries a 10-year jail term.

What began as a largely peaceful rally outside the LegCo complex on Wednesday morning turned chaotic in the afternoon as tens of thousands of protesters charged at the police.

To contain the crowd, the police at first used batons and pepper spray, but later fired over 150 rounds of tear gas and several rubber bullets at protesters, many of whom were in black attire and had put on face masks, goggles and helmets.

The officers came under fire from the local Bar Association and Hong Kong Journalists Association for using excessive force but police chief Stephen Lo on Thursday defended his officers, saying the situation warranted the measures used.

He said the police tolerated the illegal assembly "but some rioters used violent measures to storm" the LegCo complex.

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