HONG KONG – Hong Kong police used rubber bullets and tear gas shells on Wednesday to clear protesters from around the city’s legislative council building where demonstrations were held against a controversial extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, eyewitnesses reported from the scene.
Protesters were forced to flee the site after police employed anti-riot measures that were also used in some places during similar protests on Sunday.
The proposed law, which was first tabled in February and the bill of which will be put to a final vote on June 20, would allow Hong Kong to process case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements, including mainland China, Taiwan and Macau, and without direct legislative supervision.
Photos published by local daily South China Morning Post on Wednesday showed protesters near the government headquarters gathering bricks from the pavements, while the police displayed a banner saying “disperse or we shoot” – a threat which was carried out later, wounding a number of people, according to the newspaper.
Some protesters, however, stayed put at nearby squares and streets, reminiscent of the tumultuous 2014 protests, which had been the biggest expression of non-conformity with Chinese policies in Hong Kong until then.
EFE could confirm that protesters remained largely peaceful at all times and defended themselves from the police charge with helmets, water bottles and umbrellas.
Local media reported that as of 6:00 pm, 22 people had been admitted to hospitals in the city with injuries.
The Hong Kong government urged citizens to not go near the central Admiralty District, where the government offices are situated and said the protests were causing serious obstructions and inconveniencing traffic.
“A number of protesters had used very dangerous weapons and a high level of violence. They repeatedly charged at police officers, leading to an increasingly chaotic situation. The government calls on the persons at the location to leave immediately for their own safety,” a Hong Kong government spokesperson said in a statement.
The statement said the police would take “appropriate action” if there were” illegal acts” and urged protesters to “maintain social order, remain calm and exercise restraint, leave the scene peacefully.”
The Legislative Council said in a statement that a meeting to hold the second reading of the extradition bill, scheduled for Wednesday, had been postponed, with the new time to be announced later.
The bill has faced opposition from a wide social spectrum, from students to businesspersons, who have expressed concerns over the risk of Hong Kong residents charged with crimes being deported to mainland China.
It is feared that local activists, journalists, critics or dissidents residing in Hong Kong could also be sent to mainland China for trial.