Pressure increasing on Hong Kong leader amid extradition bill tensions
Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in protest against a move to allow Hong Kong suspects to be extradited to mainland China.
Pressure on Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam is mounting amid signs that she may delay an unpopular extradition bill which has drawn hundreds of thousands of people into the streets in protest.
Ms Lam is expected to hold a news conference at 3pm local time (8am BST), the government said.
Another mass protest is expected on Sunday following clashes that turned violent on Wednesday, leaving about 80 people injured – including 22 police officers.
The stand-off between police and protesters in the former British colony is Hong Kong’s most severe political crisis since the Communist Party-ruled mainland took control in 1997 with a promise not to interfere with the city’s civil liberties and courts.
Ms Lam, who was chosen by Beijing to be the highest-level local official, is caught between her Communist Party bosses and a public anxious to protect the liberties they enjoy as a former British colony.
Opponents want her to withdraw the bill, which would allow Hong Kong suspects to be tried in mainland China. She has said she will not, and has the backing of leaders in Beijing. Many protesters are calling for her to quit.
Protests had died down later in the week, but at around midnight on Friday there were still dozens of youths singing and keeping vigil near the city’s government headquarters. This is where demonstrators had earlier tussled with police, who deployed tear gas, pepper spray, hoses and steel batons as thousands pushed through barricades.
Police said 11 people were arrested.
Ms Lam declared that Wednesday’s violence was “rioting”, potentially raising severe legal penalties for those arrested for taking part.
In past cases of unrest, authorities have waited months or years before rounding up protest leaders. In April, nine leaders of a 2014 pro-democracy protest movement known as the “Umbrella Revolution” were convicted on public nuisance and other charges.
Ms Lam is facing calls from both outside and within her government to delay the extradition legislation that has spurred the protests.
Some members of the executive council, Hong Kong’s cabinet, said she should perhaps rethink plans to rush the bill’s passage. A group of former senior government officials issued a public letter urging her not to force a confrontation by pushing ahead with the unpopular bills.
Many in Hong Kong fear the measures would undermine the former British colony’s legal autonomy.
Adding to tensions, the extradition bill has drawn criticism from British and American officials as well as human rights groups, prompting Beijing to warn against “interference” in its internal affairs.
It is unclear how the local leadership might defuse the crisis, given Beijing’s strong support for the extradition bill and its distaste for dissent and foreign pressure.
Many experts believe Ms Lam might be obliged to step down, assuming responsibility for the uproar surrounding the bill.