The Hong Kong government was forced to delay the start of a legislative session on the contentious extradition bill as protesters massed outside the chamber and government headquarters.

A protester throws a tear gas canister during a demonstration against a proposed extradition bill in Hong Kong, China on June 12, 2019.
A protester throws a tear gas canister during a demonstration against a proposed extradition bill in Hong Kong, China on June 12, 2019. (Reuters)

Following a day of sit-ins, tear gas and clashes with police, Hong Kong students and civil rights activists vowed on Wednesday to keep protesting a proposed extradition bill that has become a lightning rod for concerns over greater Chinese control and erosion of civil liberties in the former British colony. 

The violence marked a major escalation of the biggest political crisis in years for the semi-autonomous Chinese territory and forced the delay of legislative debate on the contentious bill. 

College student Louis Wong said he considered the blockade of government headquarters and the Legislative Council a success because it appeared to prevent Beijing loyalists from advancing amendments to a pair of laws that would make it easier to send suspected criminals to China. 

"This is a public space and the police have no right to block us from staying here," Wong said, surveying a garbage-strewn intersection in the Admiralty neighbourhood that had been blocked off by security forces after protesters broke through a police cordon and entered the government complex. 

"We'll stay until the government drops this law and (Chinese President) Xi Jinpi ng gives up on trying to turn Hong Kong into just another city in China like Beijing and Shanghai," he said.

Earlier, police used tear gas and batons to beat back umbrella-wielding protesters who tried to reach Hong Kong's parliament.

Clashes broke out shortly after 0700 GMT (3:00 pm) – the deadline protesters had given for the government to abandon a controversial bill that would allow extraditions to China.

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.

TRT World's Patrick Fok reports. 

Protesters using umbrellas as shields could be seen trying to get closer to riot police protecting the Legislative Council building, with projectiles thrown at officers who first responded with pepper spray and baton charges.

Earlier, Matthew Cheung, the city's chief secretary, called on demonstrators to unblock key arteries and withdraw.

Debate delayed

Black-clad demonstrators, most of them young people and students, surrounded government offices, bringing traffic to a standstill as they called on authorities to scrap the Beijing-backed plan.

Rows of riot police were far outnumbered by protesters – many of whom wore face masks, helmets or goggles – just hours ahead of a scheduled debate in the city's legislature.

By late morning, with crowds continuing to swell, officials in the Legislative Council (Legco), which is dominated by Beijing loyalists, said they would delay the second reading of the bill "to a later date".

In scenes echoing the Occupy movement in 2014 that shut down swathes of the city for months, people flooded major roads and junctions in the heart of the city, dragging barricades onto highways and tying them together. Some plucked loose bricks from pavements.

TRT World spoke to Joel Lab, who is following the updates from Hong Kong.

Massive protest

Organisers of a gigantic march on Sunday said more than a million people turned out to voice their objections to the proposed law, which would allow Hong Kong to send suspects to other jurisdictions around the world – including China.

But the record numbers have failed to sway pro-Beijing chief executive Carrie Lam, who has rejected calls to withdraw the bill.

Many opponents are fearful the law would entangle people in the mainland's opaque courts, leaving them vulnerable to a justice system seen as acting at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party.

Protesters occupy a road as they demonstrate against a proposed extradition bill in Hong Kong, China on June 12, 2019.
Protesters occupy a road as they demonstrate against a proposed extradition bill in Hong Kong, China on June 12, 2019. (Reuters)

More than 100 Hong Kong businesses said they would close Wednesday in a sign of solidarity with the protesters, and the city's major student unions announced they would boycott classes to attend the rallies.

A string of other prominent unions in the transport, social work and teaching sectors either followed suit or encouraged members to attend while a bus drivers' union said it would encourage members to drive deliberately slowly to support protests.

"It’s the government who has forced people to escalate their actions, so I think it's inevitable for the fight this time to get heated," said protestor Lau Ka-chun, 21.

The pastor of a usually pro-government mega-church issued a statement saying he could not support the bill while the Catholic diocese urged Lam – a devout Catholic – to delay the bill.

A protester holds up a placard reading
A protester holds up a placard reading "Against China extradition" during a demonstration against a proposed extradition bill in Hong Kong, China on June 12, 2019. (Reuters)

'Hong Kong's children will hurt'

Overnight, a group of around 2,000 protesters held a vigil outside the government offices, with some singing hymns.

Hardline protesters had on Sunday made similar plans to spend the night but were prevented by police, who fought running battles with small groups of demonstrators.

Throughout Tuesday evening, police flooded the area around the government offices, stopping and searching many young people as they arrived in the area.

A final vote is expected on June 20.

"The only responsible thing to do now is for Carrie Lam to withdraw the evil bill, or at least to shelve it in order to solve the crisis," said pro-democracy lawmaker Fernando Cheung.

"Because the situation is very tense, if she forces it through and asks the police to use violence, I’m afraid Hong Kong’s children will be hurt, will bleed."

Hong Kong's leaders say it is needed to plug loopholes and to stop the city being a sanctuary for fugitives, and that safeguards are in place to ensure that political critics of Beijing will not be targeted.

But many Hong Kongers have little faith in the government's assurances after years of heightened fears that a resurgent Beijing is trying to quash the city's unique freedoms and culture.

A 50-year agreement between Hong Kong's former colonial ruler, Britain, and China theoretically means the city is guaranteed freedoms of speech and assembly unseen on the Chinese mainland.

Western governments have also voiced alarm, with the US this week warning the bill would put people at risk of "China's capricious judicial system".

Beijing hit back on Tuesday, with a foreign ministry official saying China "resolutely opposes interference in Hong Kong affairs".

Source: TRTWorld and agencies