Channel News Asia reports that tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Hong Kong on Sunday dressed in black to demand the city’s embattled leader steps down, a day after she suspended an extradition bill in a dramatic retreat following the most violent protests in decades.
Some protesters carried white carnation flowers, while others held banners saying, “Do not shoot, we are HongKonger,” as they sought to avoid a repeat of the violence that rocked the financial centre on Wednesday when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas.
The new law, which would have allowed extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China, prompted hundreds of thousands to demonstrate in the past week.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Saturday that the plans had been “suspended” for the time being.
But protest leaders demanded that the bill was scrapped.
The about-face was one of the most significant political turnarounds by the Hong Kong government since Britain returned the territory to China in 1997, and it threw into question Lam’s ability to continue to lead the city.
Critics say the planned extradition law could threaten Hong Kong’s rule of law and its international reputation as an Asian financial hub. Reuters reports that some Hong Kong tycoons have already started moving personal wealth offshore.
The city’s independent legal system was guaranteed under laws governing Hong Kong’s return from British to Chinese rule 22 years ago, and is seen by business and diplomatic communities as its strong remaining asset amid encroachments from Beijing.
Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula since its return to Beijing, allowing freedoms not enjoyed on mainland China but not a fully democratic vote.
Many accuse Beijing of extensive meddling since then, including obstruction of democratic reforms, interference with elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialised in works critical of Chinese leaders.
Some opponents of the extradition bill said a suspension was not enough and want it scrapped and Lam to go.