Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) yesterday refused to scrap a controversial plan to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland, a day after record crowds came out to oppose the proposal.
Striking a defiant tone after the territory’s largest protest since the 1997 handover, Lam said the legislature would debate the bill tomorrow as planned, rejecting calls to delay or withdraw the law.
The decision sets her administration on a collision course with opponents who decried her stance and called on supporters to rally outside parliament tomorrow or hold strikes.
“She’s really pushing Hong Kong towards the brink of a precipice,” Hong Kong Legislator Claudia Mo (毛孟靜) told reporters.
Sunday saw huge crowds march in blazing summer heat through the streets of the financial hub’s main island in a noisy, colorful demonstration calling on the government to scrap its planned extradition law.
Organizers said as many as 1 million people turned out — the largest protest in three decades and the biggest by far since the territory’s return to Chinese rule.
Lam’s government is pushing a bill through the legislature that would allow extraditions to any jurisdiction with which it does not already have a treaty — including mainland China.
Authorities say it is needed to plug loopholes and to stop the city being a bolthole for fugitives.
However, the proposals have birthed an opposition that unites a wide cross-section of the territorty, with critics fearing the law would entangle people in China’s opaque and politicized courts.
In her first comments since the mass rallies, Lam pushed back against calls to delay the law and said the huge rallies were proof Hong Kong’s freedom of speech was still protected.
She said her administration had already made major concessions to ensure political cases would not be considered and that human rights safeguards met international standards.
“We have been listening and listening very attentively,” she said.
However, her words drew an incredulous response from opponents who accused her of ignoring massive public opposition.
“Yesterday 1.03 million of us marched and the government is still indifferent, turning a deaf ear to the people. This government has become a dictatorship,” Hong Kong Legislator Ip Kin-yuen (葉建源) told reporters.
Political analyst Dixon Sing (成名) said that Lam could be facing “political suicide” if she pushed for a showdown after such huge demonstrations.
“In the short run, the Hong Kong government led by Carrie Lam will suffer a worsening legitimacy crisis,” he said. “Fewer and fewer people will trust her and the entire cabinet.”
However, much would rest on whether the public comes out to back further protests or strikes, he said.
Sunday’s huge rally passed without incident until shortly after midnight when small pockets of protesters fought running battles with police in chaotic and violent scenes.
Nineteen people were arrested, police said, mostly young men in their early 20s.
Hong Kong authorities said they believed the violence at the end of the largely peaceful protests was planned by organized groups.
“It’s easy to tell they are organized, premeditated, prepared, radical and violent people,” said Li Kwai-wah (李桂華), senior superintendent of the Organized Crime And Triad Bureau.
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