Hong Kong protests: Extradition bill debate delayed as tens of thousands flood streets

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Hong Kong protests: Extradition bill debate delayed as tens of thousands flood streets

Politicians in Hong Kong have postponed the reading of a controversial extradition bill after tens of thousands of protesters flooded its streets on Wednesday morning, surrounding buildings, closing roads and blocking rush-hour traffic.

Demonstrators knocked down barriers and tussled with police outside the offices of the Legislative Council where the proposed law was due to be debated at 11am, four days after they staged what was believed to be the largest protest march since Hong Kong was handed over to China from Britain in 1997.

In what appeared to be a rare victory for protesters, a government statement said the debate on the bill would be “changed to a later time” yet to be decided.

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The extradition bill, which is backed by Beijing, would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent for trial in mainland China. Critics say it would open up Hong Kong’s political dissidents to show trials on the mainland, where standards of judicial independence and fair process are far weaker than in the semi-autonomous territory.

And the bill is seen as just the latest measure signalling greater Chinese control and the erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong. China has been accused of interfering with Hong Kong elections, blocking democratic reforms and rights violations that include the abduction of five booksellers who specialised in works critical of Chinese leaders.

The extradition bill protests represent Hong Kong’s biggest political crisis since pro-democracy demonstrations closed down parts of the city centre for more than three months in 2014.

They pose 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 young Hong Kongers alienated by a political process dominated by the territory’s economic elite a chance to vent their displeasure.

Government staff were advised not to go to into work and those already on the premises were told to “stay at their working place until further notice”.

Protesters said they hope the blockade will 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.

One protester, who gave only his first name Marco, said: “We want the government to just set the legislation aside and not bring it back.”

A fellow protester, who gave her name as King, said the protest was a watershed moment for Hong Kong’s young generation, who face difficult job prospects and skyrocketing housing prices.

“We have to stand up for our rights or they will be taken away,” she said.

Additional reporting by agencies

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