Hong Kong protest draws hundreds of thousands over extradition bill

Classic outdoor seating at a traditional restaurant in Sheung Wan

Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through Hong Kong on Sunday to voice their opposition to government-sponsored legislation that would allow people to be extradited to mainland China to face charges.

Organisers said more than a million people 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.

The city's population is around 7.3 million and the organizer figure for Sunday's protest outstripped 2003, when an estimated half a million demonstrators forced the government to shelve a deeply unpopular national security law.

An amendment to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance was introduced in April and is set to be voted on June 12 by Legislative Council, whose majority is held by pro-establishment legislators.

The bill could become law by the end of June.

Protesters carrying banners and signs objecting to the government-backed legislation marched and chanted "no extradition" through the city center.

Lam has tweaked the amendments but refused to pull the bill, saying it is vital to plug a long-standing "loophole".

Insurance agents, executives and small entrepreneurs joined bus drivers and mechanics in the streets on Sunday.

"I come here to fight", said a wheelchair-bound, 78-year-old man surnamed Lai, who was among the first to arrive.

"I think this law will take away our freedoms if it is implemented", one protester told the NYT.

Hong Kong officials have said local courts will have the final say over whether to grant such extradition requests, and suspects accused of political and religious crimes will not be extradited.

"This bill will not just affect Hong Kong's reputation as an worldwide finance centre, but also our judicial system".

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Kiwi Wong, 27, was among the throng, a member of the younger generation who've grown up enjoying relative prosperity but also growing insecurity about what many see as an erosion of the rights Hong Kong residents have enjoyed.

Hundreds of thousands of people filled the sweltering streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in an vast protest against fraying freedoms that culminated after midnight with the police firing pepper spray and striking participants with batons.

The protestors are angry about a change to the laws there, which they fear could let China target people opposed to how it runs the city.

The controversial extradition bill would allow suspected criminals to be sent to mainland China for trial.

But critics fear the law would entangle people in China's opaque and politicised court system and say the government is using the Taiwan case as a Trojan Horse.

"The Hong Kong government and the Chinese government are not on an equal footing", added Chan Sze-chai, a member of Hong Kong University Students' Union Council.

Foreign political and diplomatic pressure over human rights concerns is rising, too.

"Today, Hongkongers have stood up, not just to the Hong Kong government, not just to Beijing, but also to the world, to history", he said.

Human rights groups, legal alliances, and numerous governments have expressed their concern about the bill.

Taiwanese officials have sought help from Hong Kong authorities to extradite the man, but Hong Kong officials say they can not comply because of the lack of an extradition agreement with Taiwan. Supporters say safeguards are in place to prevent anyone facing religious or political persecution from being extradited to mainland China.

A Hong Kong government official said: "We continue to listen to a wide cross-section of views and opinions and remain to open to suggestions on ways to improve the new regime".

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