Hundreds of thousands have joined a mass protest against the Hong Kong government’s controversial extradition bill, in what organisers are hoping may become the largest protest since 500,000 rallied against national security legislation in 2003.
Crowds swelled as protesters left Victoria Park in Causeway Bay before the 3pm start time due to overcrowding.
Police opened all lanes of Hennessey Road a few hours later after initially refusing to do so.
The MTR has also enacted crowd control measures – trains are not stopping at Causeway Bay or Tin Hau. Trains are also not stopping at Mong Kok.
Protesters chanted “Scrap the evil law,” “Oppose China extradition” and “Carrie Lam resign” in reference to the Chief Executive Carrie Lam. The city’s leader declined to answer questions at a public appearance in Ocean Park.
They began marching towards the legislature over an issue that has underscored divisions in society over trust in the legislature and the Chinese judicial system.
HK Lau, a retired civil servant in his 60s, told HKFP he believed the passing of the extradition law would mean the end of the One Country Two Systems principle: “Communist China has never changed,” he said. “If anything has changed it is that they are richer and more powerful, and now it’s spreading.”
Karen Chan, a university student, told HKFP she thinks the government has neglected public opinion on the extradition proposals and calls the bill “nonsense”
“I know it’s difficult to change the mind of the Hong Kong government, but I hope that the protest today can arouse some international concern about it through the power of mass media,” she said.
The march was organised by the Civil Human Rights Front – a coalition of pro-democracy groups – under the slogans “safeguard Hong Kong,” “scrap the evil law” and “Carrie Lam resign.”
Hong Kong’s government proposed legal amendments in February to allow the city to handle case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements, most notably China and Taiwan.
The plan would enable the chief executive and local courts to handle extradition requests without legislative oversight and could reach a final vote before the current legislative period ends in July. The government has said the law will allow it to close a legal “loophole.”
Organisers on Sunday invited participants to wear white to represent light and justice.
The pro-democracy camp’s convenor, Claudia Mo, told RTHK on Sunday that Lam was pushing the extradition bill at the behest of Beijing: “The apparent grand plan, complete with the Greater Bay Area scheme, is to assimilate Hong Kong into the vast hinterland. The idea is to, ultimately, disappear Hong Kong, or at least to change it into one of the numerous Chinese cities… like a little boat, Hong Kong is sinking fast, but we’re not taking this lying down, we have to put up a fight.”
Police are remaining on guard on Sunday after two petrol bomb attacks against their Wan Chai headquarters and Happy Valley station on Friday. A man has been charged in connection with the incident and three others have been released on bail. Police said there was no connection found to the protests.
Apple Daily reports that steel barricades have been erected around the legislature – the protest’s endpoint.
In April, tens of thousands of Hongkongers took to the streets in protest of the proposal as democrats have sought to hinder the bill’s progress at the legislature. The government is fast-tracking the bill’s movement through the legislature, insisting that it arrive at the main chamber by Wednesday in the hope it will pass before the summer break next month.
Additional reporting: Tom Grundy.
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