China extradition clashes plunge Hong Kong into historic violence

The law is a contradiction to the 'one country, two systems' framework that was agreed upon during Hong Kong's handover to China from the British in 1997. It guaranteed the island nation the right to retain its own social, legal and political systems for a period of 50 years.

As Hong Kong prepared to start a discussion on an extradition law that would send citizens accused of wrongdoing to China for trial, a huge crowd of demonstrators organised mass protests outside government buildings and Legislative Council.

The law is a contradiction to the ‘one country, two systems’ framework that was agreed upon during Hong Kong’s handover to China from the British in 1997. It guaranteed the island nation the right to retain its own social, legal and political systems for a period of 50 years.

Protesters held posters reading “No extradition to China” and chanted “Hong Kong government, Shame on you” denouncing the proposed amendments to the extradition laws. A vote on the amended law is now scheduled for June 20.

Clashes between protesters and police

Though the protests were largely peaceful for the most part, there were reports of clashes between the protesters and police at several places. The police, it is reported, fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the demonstrators while they threw plastic bottles at the police in return.

The demonstrators mostly young people who took a day off from work or skipped classes to join the protests, overturned barriers and tussled with police as they sought entry into the government headquarters and offices of the Legislative Council, the Associated Press reported.

Ambulances were rushed to the protest areas as some people were purportedly injured in the clashes, Reuters quoted Cable TV report. By evening, the violence was curtailed but the protests continued as roads leading to government offices remained inaccessible.

In a statement reporters, Chief Secretary for Administration Mathew Cheung appealed to the protesters to not block the main roads and urged them to remain calm. He added, “I would also like to ask the people in this gathering to stay calm and leave the scene as soon as possible and not to commit any crime.”

Meddling China

The legislature is believed to be controlled by a pro-Beijing majority which is causing interferences in local elections and obstructing democratic reforms.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, however, has vowed to go ahead with the legislation despite severe concerns among the nation’s business leaders, that the law could undermine the freedom of the country and investor confidence and erode the city’s competitive advantages.

“I have never had any guilty conscience because of this matter, I just said the initial intention of our work is still firmly right.” She added that “perhaps it is impossible to completely eliminate worry, anxiety or controversy,” she quoted as saying by Reuters.

The protests have adversely affected the country’s financial markets. The benchmark Hang Seng Index closed 1.7% lower, having lost as much as 2% in the afternoon, while Chinese companies in Hong Kong ended down 1.2%.

Britain voices concern, China adamant

UK’s outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May called for extradition rules set out in the 1984 Sino-British agreement that respect the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Hong Kong. She said that she was concerned about the effects of the proposal which has a large population of British nationals.

Meanwhile, China has reiterated its support to the legislation. “Any actions that harm Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability are opposed by mainstream public opinion in Hong Kong,” the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Comparisons with ‘Yellow Umbrella’ protest

In 2014, massive protests had erupted in the country after the Chinese government introduced a bill that the candidates for the 2017 elections must be approved by Beijing. “The Chief Executive shall be a person who loves the country (China) and loves Hong Kong,” stated the decision taken by China’s National People’s Congress.

Incensed by the bill, protesters occupied Hong Kong’s most crowded districts for 70 days. It got its name `Umbrella Revolution” due to the yellow umbrella used by demonstrators to shield themselves from pepper spray used by the police to disperse the crowds.

In June 2015, Hong Kong legislators formally rejected the bill, and electoral reform has been stalled since then.

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