Hong Kong girded for another mass march against a China-backed extradition bill scheduled for tomorrow as Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) faced new calls to withdraw the bill after clashes between protesters and police.
The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized a demonstration that drew hundreds of thousands of people last weekend, said that it had applied for police permission to stage a similar event.
The move comes as allies of Lam began questioning her tactics and lawmakers postponed debate on the bill until at least next week.
Yesterday, one of Lam’s top advisers said that her administration underestimated the amount of opposition to the bill, casting doubt on whether the bill could be rushed through before the end of the legislative session next month.
“I think it is impossible to discuss under such confrontation. It’s highly difficult,” Hong Kong Executive Council Convener Bernard Chan (陳智思) said on Hong Kong’s RTHK radio. “At least these days, we shouldn’t intensify such confrontation.”
While only a few protesters were near the legislature yesterday, Lam called off an appearance at a technology conference organized by the Wall Street Journal, organizers said.
“So far everybody is very unhappy with the way the government handled it,” Felix Chung (鍾國斌), who represents the textile and garments industries as a pro-establishment member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, said in a telephone interview. “I believe most people in Hong Kong do not agree with the reasons why it has to be that rushed.”
Police had not yet responded to the front’s request for a permit to march from Victoria Park in the Tin Hau area about 3km to the government headquarters.
The group said that it does not see any reason why police should refuse their request because their events have been peaceful.
Critics say that passing the bill could prompt the US to reconsider the territory’s special trading status, drive away foreign companies and imperil critics of the Chinese Communist Party.
Hong Kong’s General Chamber of Commerce, which says it represents businesses employing one-third of the local workforce, said that large-scale protests show that the public has “serious apprehensions” about the bill.
“We sincerely urge the government to continue to listen to stakeholders and engage in meaningful dialogue with the public,” chamber chairman Aron Harilela said in a statement, adding that it agrees with the underlying principle of the bill.
“We call for restraint from all parties to ensure that this issue will not undermine business confidence in Hong Kong and our international reputation,” chamber chief executive officer Shirley Yuen added.
The government headquarters was closed yesterday, but several main roads were reopened.
Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo (盧偉聰) said that officers had acted in accordance with guidelines on Wednesday and had shot 150 rounds of tear gas at protesters.
Lo added that 22 police had been injured.
Chung said that opponents of the bill were exaggerating its pitfalls, and protections were added to safeguard against misuse.
The statements by foreign governments questioning the bill have only fueled Beijing’s resolve to pass it , even though “it’s not such a big deal to delay it or make amendments,” he said.
“Now it’s been raised to an international, diplomatic level,” Chung said. “That is why the central government and Hong Kong are standing so firm on this bill now.”
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