HONG KONG - Protesters demanding the full withdrawal of a now-suspended extradition Bill have called for further protests this weekend, as they rebuffed Chief Executive Carrie Lam's peace offering made on Tuesday.
There were calls online for people to surround Mrs Lam's office in Admiralty on Friday morning (July 12), which marks a month from the violent June 12 protests labelled by police chief Stephen Lo as a "riot".
A small group of about 20 protesters gathered at the Admiralty government headquarters at about 11am with banners and a coffin, in which they placed a photo of Mrs Lam.
Chanting “Carrie Lam step down” and “Carrie Lam die a natural death”, they wheeled the coffin to the leader’s office in Lung Wo Road where 2m-tall barricades blocked their access.
An elderly protester who refused requests to be named said: “If there’s true freedom, why do you have all these protests? The government is too much. It has gone overboard.”
Asked if his friends or family would emigrate to escape the system, the man, who would only say he was over 70 years old, said those who could leave have left.
“I will stay to fight for Hong Kong. Hong Kong is now at the forefront of the fight for democracy against the Chinese Communist Party.”
Tensions peaked on June 12, as the extradition Bill was due to be read a second time in the Legislative Council (LegCo).
To prevent the reading of the Bill, protesters gathered at the Admiralty government headquarters and formed a human wall to prevent lawmakers from entering the complex.
They succeeded but clashes broke out in the afternoon, with protesters throwing metal rods and bricks at the police, and the police firing rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them. Dozens were injured and arrested.
In online forums on Friday, netizens urged people to demand that Mrs Lam and her administration give in to their five conditions - scrap the Bill completely, not just suspend it indefinitely; retract the label on the June 12 events as a riot; release all protesters arrested so far; conduct an inquiry into allegations of police brutality; and universal suffrage.
Mrs Lam had on Tuesday pronounced the highly-controversial extradition Bill "dead", but her remarks did little to allay lingering suspicions that the process of passing it through the legislature could still be restarted.
The Bill would allow for criminal suspects to be transferred from Hong Kong to other jurisdictions for prosecution, including to China, where protesters fear their rights might be trampled on.
Acknowledging that the government's responses might not have fully met the wishes of the people, Mrs Lam appealed to the public to give her administration the opportunity and time to "take Hong Kong out of the current impasse and try to improve the current situation".
She has said it was not acceptable to grant amnesty to protesters who broke the law, adding that she and her administration had not put a label on June 12 and that even if there were one, it would not have an impact on prosecutorial decisions.
Last week, the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), whose members are appointed by the Chief Executive and thus many are pro-government, said it would conduct a fact-finding study on the events from June 9 to July 2. This has also been rebuffed by protesters and opposition lawmakers.
Protesters want an independent inquiry headed by a judge.
The Civil Human Rights Front, which was behind the largest rallies, told the media on Friday it is organising a rally on July 21 to pressure the government into responding to people’s demands, particularly calls for a truly independent inquiry into allegations of police brutality.
Its spokesman Bonnie Leung added: “Last night we had a meeting and decided we will commit to a judicial review of the police force to hold them accountable for what happened on June 12 and it will be submitted by our lawyer shortly.”
On Thursday, Beijing's top official in Hong Kong, Mr Wang Zhimin, said there are some Hongkongers who are trying to take advantage of the extradition controversy and bring chaos to the city for their own gain.
Without specifying them, he condemned the violence that broke out during recent protests, particularly the storming of the LegCo on July 1, which resulted in extensive damage.
Mr Wang, who is head of the Beijing liaison office in Hong Kong, also said foreign forces are blatantly interfering in Hong Kong affairs.