Asia Pacific

Hong Kong shuts government offices; security tight after violent protests

Reuters

Hong Kong authorities have shut government offices in the financial district for the rest of the week after a day of violence over an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.

On Thursday a few hundred protesters milled around, with some sorting their supplies of face masks and food as a widespread cleanup around the legislature took place.

Security remained tight, with scores of police with helmets and shields in the area. Plainclothes police officers checked identification of morning commuters.

Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray on Wednesday to clear demonstrators from the legislature. It was some of the worst violence in Hong Kong since Britain handed it back to Chinese rule in 1997.

The Hong Kong Hospital Authority said 72 people had been hospitalized.

The extradition bill, which will cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living in or traveling through the city, has sparked concerns it may threaten the rule of law that underpins Hong Kong’s international financial status.

Wednesday night was the third night of violence since a protest on Sunday drew what organizers said was more than a million people in the biggest demonstration since the 1997 handover.

Overnight, several thousand demonstrators remained near the legislature in the Admiralty district, and thousands more retreated to the Central business district.

Most roads around Central were open for traffic on Thursday. Banks suspended branch services in the area. Banks based in the Central district — the financial heart of the city — emphasized it was “business as usual” but many offered staffers, where possible, the option of working from home.

Hong Kong’s China-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned the violence late on Wednesday and urged a swift restoration of order.

While acknowledging the controversy, Lam has refused to postpone or withdraw the bill, which she and her officials say is necessary to plug “loopholes” that are allowing the city to be a haven for criminals wanted on the mainland.

Lam has said the courts would provide human rights safeguards in vetting case-by-case extraditions to mainland China.

Opponents, including leading lawyers and rights groups, say China’s justice system is marked by torture and forced confessions, arbitrary detention and poor access to lawyers.

Democratic lawmakers in an impromptu media stand-up in the legislature on Thursday strongly criticized Lam’s heavy-handed police response.

“We are not a haven for criminals, but we have become a haven of violent police. Firing at our children? None of the former chief executives dared to do that,” said legislator Fernando Cheung. “But ‘mother Carrie Lam’ did it.”

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5