Hong Kong's pro-Beijing leader said Monday she had no plans to scrap a controversial plan to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland, a day after massive crowds came out to oppose the proposal.
The city government is pushing a bill through the legislature that would allow extraditions of suspects to any jurisdiction with which it does not already have an arrangement with – including mainland China.
"This is a very important piece of legislation that will help to uphold justice and also ensure that Hong Kong will fulfil her international obligations in terms of cross-boundary and transnational crimes," chief executive Carrie Lam told reporters.
Riot police surrounded Hong Kong's parliament after Lam's announcement.
The proposals have sparked an outcry and birthed an opposition that unites a wide cross-section of the city with opponents fearing the law would entangle people in China's opaque and politicised court system.
TRT World's Abubakr al Shamahi reports.
Pepper-sprayed by the police
What began as a peaceful protest through the centre of the global financial hub descended into violence early on Monday as several hundred protesters clashed with police, who responded with pepper spray before the stand-off ended soon after.
The protest started on Sunday when huge crowds marched in blazing summer heat through the cramped streets of the financial hub's main island in a noisy, colourful demonstration calling on the government to scrap its planned extradition law.
Organisers said as many as a million people turned – by far the largest protest since Hong Kong's 1997 handover to China – presenting Lam with a major political crisis.
Sunday's demonstration capped weeks of growing outrage in the business, diplomatic and legal communities, which fear corrosion of Hong Kong's legal autonomy and the difficulty of ensuring basic judicial protections in mainland China.
But in her first comments since the mass rallies, Lam said she had no plans to change the current law's wording or withdraw it from the city's legislature.
"The bill will resume its second reading on the 12th June," she said.
Lam denied ignoring the huge public backlash and said her administration had already made major concessions to ensure the city's unique freedoms would be protected and that the bill's human rights safeguards met international standards.
"I and my team have not ignored any views expressed on this very important piece of legislation. We have been listening and listening very attentively," she said.
Larger than ever
Organisers put the size of Sunday’s crowd at more than a million, outstripping a demonstration in 2003 when 500,000 took to the streets to challenge government plans for tighter national security laws.
Police put the figure at 240,000 at the march’s peak.
Many thousands were still waiting to join the march from Victoria Park on Hong Kong island on Sunday as tens of thousands of others reached the Legislative Council building in the Admiralty business district.
About 1,000 people joined a protest in Sydney and another protest was also reported in London.