HONG KONG - More than 200 members of the Chief Executive Election Committee have called on Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to step down and withdraw the Bill that would allow extraditions to China, local radio station RTHK reported on Thursday (June 13).
They said that Mrs Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, should resign to assume responsibility for the violent enforcement against protesters who clashed with the police on Wednesday during demonstrations against the Bill, RTHK said. The members represented various subsectors of the committee, including Legal, Medical, Education, Higher Education, and Social Welfare.
Hong Kong on Thursday postponed the legislative debate on the controversial extradition Bill for a second day, after a massive rally that witnessed violent clashes between protesters and the police on Wednesday.
In a notice to lawmakers, the Legislative Council (LegCo) Secretariat said that the council would not hold a session on Thursday to debate the Bill.
It issued another notice in the afternoon saying that it will also not hold a session on Friday. The notice added that further announcement will be made once the council president sets the time of the meeting.
For security reasons, the Central Government Offices are closed on Thursday and Friday.
The city’s transport operator suspended services to Admiralty station, said RTHK on Thursday morning. The government headquarters are located in Admiralty. The station was reopened for services from 2pm on Thursday.
Hong Kong’s General Chamber of Commerce, which says it represents businesses employing a third of the local workforce, said large-scale protests show that the public has serious apprehensions about the bill, reported Bloomberg.
“We sincerely urge the government to continue to listen to stakeholders and engage in meaningful dialogue with the public,” said Mr Aron Harilela, the group’s chairman, adding that it agrees with the underlying principle of the Bill.
“We call for restraint from all parties to ensure that this issue will not undermine business confidence in Hong Kong and our international reputation,” Chamber chief executive officer Shirley Yuen added, according to a statement.
Meanwhile, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen told reporters on Thursday that Hong Kongers have the right to pursue their way of life and system they want. She said that her government would not accept the Hong Kong extradition Bill, adding that it violates Taiwan’s sovereignty.
China considers self-governed Taiwan a renegade province with no right to state-to-state ties, and territory to be “reunified” by force if necessary.
On Thursday morning, more than a hundred protesters were seen lingering on Hong Kong’s streets as heavy rain fell. Some of them turned up at the LegCo complex at Admiralty before 11am to clear debris left behind from the protests overnight but riot police turned up and lined up before them.
Uniformed police with helmets and shields blocked overhead walkways, while a long row of police vans were parked nearby, according to Reuters.
Tensions spiked for a while before the officers left. The protesters then resumed clearing debris while others clustered around the LegCo complex.
Labour Party politician Fernando Cheung emerged from the complex and told those gathering around that there would be no debate on Thursday. He also urged the people to go home and rest.
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.
Security remained tight and police reopened several roads in the affected area, including Harcourt Road and Queensway.
Police said 11 people had been arrested for disorderly conduct in public place, unlawful assembly, assaulting police officers and other riot-related offences.
The city’s Bar Association expressed concern over video footage of police using force against largely unarmed protesters. “In these cases the police may well have overstepped their lawful powers in maintaining public order,” it said in a statement.
The Civil Human Rights Front, a pro-democracy coalition which acted as the unofficial organiser of the demonstrations, had said late on Wednesday that protests would continue until the government withdrew the Bill.
On Wednesday night, hundreds of young protesters took over roads in Central, paralysing traffic. Another huge group of protesters confronted the police in Admiralty on Queensway until about 2am, when they dispersed.
Piles of rubbish and debris used as makeshift barriers by the protesters were left on the roads and were cleared overnight to allow vehicles to pass.
The protesters were demanding that Chief Executive Carrie Lam back down from a controversial extradition Bill that would allow Hong Kong to convey fugitives to the mainland to stand trial. Critics of the Bill pointed to Beijing's opaque legal system and said the Bill could be used to target political opponents of China.
Mrs Lam has said that the Bill has enough safeguards and has vowed to push on, saying in a sombre video address on Wednesday that the protesters had orchestrated 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 using the advance and retreat strategy reminiscent of the 2014 “occupy” movement against Chinese political reforms. They hurled water bottles and other items at police.
To contain the crowd, the police had at first used batons and pepper spray, but they later fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, many of whom were in black attire, and had put on face masks, goggles and helmets.
As many as 81 people were injured, according to a spokesman for Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority.
Many protesters fled to nearby office buildings and a shopping mall to take cover, as shops in the mall hastily shuttered.
The upmarket Pacific Place mall, close to the LegCo complex, said in a notice that it would be shut on Thursday for safety reasons. Banks including Standard Chartered, Bank of China and DBS said they had suspended branch services in the area until further notice.
By evening, the protesters had shifted from the LegCo complex in Admiralty and scattered in two directions – Central and Wan Chai – stopping traffic in those areas.
The Civil Human Rights Front has called for a city-wide strike, while the Professional Teachers’ Union has called for class boycotts for a week.
Expressing its strong opposition to the class boycott and teachers' strike, the Education Bureau on Wednesday reiterated that schools should not be used for expressing political aspirations, "as that would not only affect normal school operations but also unfairly drag underaged students into political turbulence at the expense of their learning opportunities".
On Thursday, the head of the city’s largest teachers’ union pushed back against criticism over the group’s call for a school strike, Bloomberg reported. Mr Ip Kin Yuen clarified that the union’s call was directed at teachers – not students.
“We have never had such strong requests from teachers to clearly voice our stand. We want to reiterate that we are asking teachers to strike." he said. "We hope students are present in class. We urge high school students under 18 not to go to dangerous places.”
Turnout at protests since Sunday has been largely driven by young people, including students, many of whom are on summer break.