Hong Kong protesters disperse after causing China new grief

Protesters carrying traffic cones gather outside the Wan Chai Police Headquarters after a rally in Hong Kong, on June 26, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong protesters dispersed early on Thursday (June 27) after a six-hour siege of the city's police headquarters, as opponents of the Beijing-backed government attempted to put their case on the global agenda at the Group of 20 summit in Japan.

Several thousand demonstrators surrounded the Hong Kong Police Force's building in Wan Chai after attending a larger, peaceful rally nearby to air complaints about the local government and a now-suspended Bill that would ease extraditions to China. The scores of protesters who remained into the early morning hours left after they were confronted by police in riot gear around 4am, the South China Morning Post newspaper said.

There were a few tense moments overnight as some demonstrators blocked roads, vandalised the building's exterior with slogans critical of the police and kept officers barricaded inside, the Post said. The agency had issued a statement after midnight urging the group to leave and "be considerate in expressing their views".

The protest - the second such siege of police headquarters in less than a week - shows Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's failure to quell unrest in the Asian financial centre almost two weeks after "pausing" her controversial extradition Bill. The legislation has helped unify the opposition in the former British colony, drawing hundreds of thousands into the streets and illustrating a source of domestic weakness for Chinese President Xi Jinping just as he prepares to meet United States President Donald Trump in Osaka, Japan.

Besides demanding the complete withdrawal of the Bill, protesters want Mrs Lam to resign and drop charges against demonstrators arrested during violent police clashes outside the legislative complex on June 12. Police unleashed tear gas and rubber bullets to control what they said was a "riot situation" after some protesters threw bricks and other objects and tried to storm the building.

Earlier on Wednesday, opponents of the legislation delivered letters to local G-20 consulates urging global intervention and gathered in Edinburgh Place for a "G-20 Free Hong Kong".

Mr Nathan Law, 25, a former lawmaker of the Demosisto party, said in a speech that Hong Kong people wanted the international community to take notice of Beijing's infringement on their freedoms. "As part of the free world, we stand united against China's communist regime," he said.

Representatives from protest organiser the Civil Human Rights Front read from the group's manifesto and had the crowd shout slogans in the languages of some G-20 countries, starting with Japanese. As the rally wrapped up, they asked the crowd to hold up phone flashlights and posters.

"Free Hong Kong, democracy now! Withdraw evil law!" people chanted as a sea of lights lit up. They sang along to Chinese and English versions of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from the musical Les Miserables, one of the protest movement's unofficial anthems. CHRF said it didn't have a crowd-size estimate.

Kun Chan, a 16-year-old student, said he believed it was only a matter of time before the extradition law passed. "I know the number of people here is very important to let other countries like England and the US help us to fight China," Chan said.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman reaffirmed the country's opposition on Wednesday to any discussion of Hong Kong during the G-20, saying that Beijing wouldn't tolerate any foreign interference in what it saw as its domestic affairs.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's No. 2 official, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, defended Mrs Lam's handling of the controversy, saying the chief executive had "already made a very sincere apology and stressed in no uncertain terms that the current-term administration will continue to do our very, very best to serve the community".

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