HK protesters vow to push ahead with mass rally

A member of Civil Human Rights Front Jimmy Sham (C) with other members speak during a news conference, next to the Legislative Council building, in Hong Kong, China, 15 June 2019Image copyright

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Protest groups rejected the Hong Kong government’s concessions

Protesters in Hong Kong have vowed to push ahead with a rally on Sunday, despite the government’s decision to suspend its controversial bill to allow extradition to mainland China.

Protest leaders urged Chief Executive Carrie Lam to resign and permanently scrap the plan.

The proposed bill led to mass demonstrations and sparked some of the worst violence seen in years.

Protesters are concerned at increased influence by Beijing in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is a former British colony, but was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal that guarantees it a level of autonomy.

Jimmy Sham, from protest group the Civil Human Rights Front, said Sunday’s rally would go ahead as planned, likening the announced suspension to a “knife” that had been plunged into the city.

“It’s almost reached our heart. Now the government said they won’t push it, but they also refuse to pull it out,” he said.

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Media captionCarrie Lam expressed ‘deep sorrow’ over extradition law controversy

Ms Lam said she had heard the calls for her government to “pause and think”.

“I feel deep sorrow and regret that deficiencies in our work – and various other factors – have stirred up substantial controversies,” she added.

She said that the urgency felt to pass the bill before the legislative year ends “perhaps no longer exists”.

But she stopped short of saying the bill would be permanently shelved.

The government had argued the proposed extradition bill would “plug the loopholes” so that the city would not be a safe haven for criminals, following a murder case in Taiwan.

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Hundreds of thousands of people have protested against the plans

Critics have said the legislation would expose people in Hong Kong to China’s deeply flawed justice system and lead to further erosion of the city’s judicial independence.

‘Striking U-turn’

Analysis by Helier Cheung, BBC News, Hong Kong

It was a striking U-turn from a leader who previously struck a defiant tone.

Mere days ago, Ms Lam had vowed to press ahead with the unpopular legislation – now she has promised to “listen to different views from society”.

But for many protesters, the damage has already been done, and the move to delay – but not cancel – the legislation is unlikely to assuage their concerns.

One protester told me he believed the government was “trying to divert attention away until opposition calms down – and then they’ll try to re-do the whole process again”.

Others said they would still take part in a march against the proposal planned for Sunday.

“Our final goal is to cancel the law, not to pause it. I think there will still be many people coming out tomorrow,” a student leader told me.

China’s foreign ministry publicly backed Ms Lam after her announcement.

“The Chinese Central Government expresses its support, respect and understanding for the [Hong Kong] government’s decision,” spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement.

Amid the international debate on Hong Kong, he also warned that its “affairs are purely China’s internal affairs that brook no interference from any country, organization or individual”.

What was the controversy about?

The changes would allow for criminal extradition requests from authorities in mainland China, Taiwan and Macau – decided on a case-by-case basis by Hong Kong courts.

Hong Kong officials, including Ms Lam, say the bill is necessary to protect the city against criminals.

But many fear the law could be used to target political opponents of the Chinese state.

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Media captionHow Hong Kong demonstrators organised protests

Opposition activists also cite the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions and forced confessions in mainland China.

It comes after a high-profile case where a Hong Kong man was accused of murdering his girlfriend on holiday in Taiwan but could not be extradited.

Yet Taiwanese officials are against the changes – due to their own concerns about the impact they could have.

Taiwan is in effect independent, but China considers it a breakaway province.

The government there has even said it would not accept the extradition of the accused man if it was under the proposed new rules.

How did protests unfold?

A large-scale march, which organisers said drew more than one million people, was held last Sunday.

Then on Wednesday tens of thousands gathered to blockade streets around government headquarters to try to stop the second reading, or debate, of the extradition bill.

Tensions boiled over and 22 police and 60 protesters were injured. Authorities say 11 people were arrested.

The police, who used tear gas and rubber bullets, have been accused of excessive force by some rights groups.

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Media captionPolice use tear gas on protesters

Until Saturday’s announcement, Ms Lam had not spoken publicly since she labelled the protests “organised riots” during a tearful address.

Is Hong Kong part of China?

Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841, when China ceded the island to the British after the First Opium War – which had erupted over British traders smuggling opium into China. It remained a colony until sovereignty was returned to China in 1997.

It is now part of China under a “one country, two systems” principle, which ensures that it keeps its own judicial independence, its own legislature and economic system.

It is what China calls a special administrative region – enjoying a great deal of autonomy that has made it a key business and media hub in the region.

But it remains subject to pressure from mainland China, and Beijing remains responsible for defence and foreign affairs.

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