Hong Kong police used tear gas Wednesday in a bid to stop protesters from storming parliament, in a major escalation of public anger against a controversial extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.
Footage broadcast on i-Cable news showed demonstrators scattering as thick clouds of tear gas enveloped a group of protesters, who clashed with riot police outside the city’s legislature.
Tens of thousands of Hong Kong demonstrators surrounded the legislature earlier in the day, forcing it to postpone a second round of debate on the extradition bill.
The proposed bill has heightened fears over greater Chinese control and erosion of civil liberties in the semiautonomous territory.
The overwhelmingly young crowd overflowed onto a major downtown road as they overturned barriers and tussled with police outside the building that also houses the chambers where the legislature was to discuss the bill.
Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary for Administration, Matthew Cheung, had called on people who are blocking roads to leave the road and “go back to the pavement as soon as possible, so that traffic can return to normal.”
A curt government statement said the session scheduled to begin at 11 am would be “changed to a later time.” An earlier statement said staff members were advised not to go to work and those already on the premises were told to “stay at their working place until further notice.”
The delay appeared to be at least a temporary victory for the bill’s opponents, whose protests have prompted Hong Kong’s biggest political crisis since pro-democracy demonstrations closed down parts of downtown for more than three months in 2014. Some businesses closed for the day, and labor strikes and class boycotts were called.
The protests are a challenge to China’s ruling Communist Party and President Xi Jinping, who has in the past said he would not tolerate Hong Kong being used as a base to challenge the party’s authority. But they are also giving vent to young Hong Kongers alienated by a political process dominated by the territory’s economic elite.
Protesters said they hoped the blockade would persuade Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s administration to shelve the proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance.