The legislature holds off debate as protesters regroup.
Calm returned to the streets of Hong Kong on Thursday morning as the president of the Legislative Council agreed to delay by at least another day consideration of the contentious bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China following clashes between protesters and the police a day earlier.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators opposed to the bill surrounded the Legislative Council building on Wednesday and prevented lawmakers from meeting as scheduled to move the legislation toward a vote next week. When some protesters charged the police in an attempt to enter the building, riot control officers opened fire with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Almost all the protesters dispersed overnight, and reporters and camera crews arrived early Thursday to find an eerily hushed building surrounded by heavy security on quiet streets. As thunderstorms rolled across the city, trash crews cleared away surgical masks, water bottles and other debris from Wednesday’s clashes.
[What caused the protests? We took a look at the proposed extradition bill that has outraged residents.]
Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy legislator, welcomed news of the delay, which was announced by the president of the legislature, Andrew Leung.
“It’s the right thing to do” given the size of the protests, Ms. Mo said in an interview at the Legislative Council. She added that the area around the building was “not quite ready to be open for business.”
Ms. Mo acknowledged that the legislature, controlled by lawmakers who support Beijing, was still likely to pass the bill but said the efforts to combat it were worthwhile. “If you don’t fight, you don’t get anything,” she said.
Mr. Leung gave no indication of when the legislature would resume deliberations on the bill. He had previously said a vote could take place next Thursday after more than 60 hours of debate.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, who has championed the legislation, did not immediately comment. On Wednesday, she compared the protesters to spoiled children and vowed to keep fighting for the extradition law.
Video footage of the police response draws accusations of excessive force.
Source: The Associated Press
Video recordings of Wednesday’s protests in which the police appear to be using excessive force have been circulated widely across social media, and have led human rights groups and opposition lawmakers to condemn the tactics.
In one video, a police officer appears to shoot a protester in the face with a rubber bullet. Another shows an officer continuously shooting pepper spray into the face of a seemingly unarmed man, and a third captures a male protester being beaten to the ground by a group of officers armed with batons.
The New York Times was unable to confirm the provenance and authenticity of every video, but the local news media vouched for some of them and many of the details were consistent with Wednesday’s events.
Officers in riot gear fired tear gas, pepper spray and projectiles known as bean bag rounds or “supersock rounds” as well as rubber bullets when a crowd of protesters tried to enter the Legislative Council on Wednesday. The protesters who arrived at the gates of the complex hurled bricks, water bottles and umbrellas at the line of armored officers.
The use of rubber bullets represented a turning point in the police response and was the first time the government acknowledged using the nonlethal rounds in Hong Kong in decades. The police response following the protesters’ push toward the Legislative Council was noticeably more aggressive as peaceful protests became more pitched throughout the day.
Hong Kong’s police chief, Stephen Lo, defended his officers’ actions on Wednesday, calling the situation a “riot.”
And a police spokesman suggested protesters were the first to use dangerous force. “I think all of us should think of who initially start the protest,” Kong Wing-cheung, a police spokesman, said about the violence.
One video circulated by the Hong Kong-based newspaper Apple Daily appeared to show a protester who had already fallen to the ground being beaten by a group of helmet-clad riot police wielding batons and shields.
Charles Mok, a local lawmaker, posted a message on his Twitter account on Thursday accusing the police of having gone “mad.”
“The ugly scenes of police using tear gas and pepper spray against overwhelmingly peaceful protesters is a violation of international law,” Man-kei Tam, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Police have a duty to maintain public order, but in doing so they may use force only when strictly necessary.
Human Rights Watch also condemned what it called the use of “unnecessary and excessive force” in a statement on Wednesday.
The authorities target a messaging app protesters use to organize.
The Hong Kong police arrested a protest organizer who coordinated thousands of demonstrators using the smartphone messaging app Telegram, just hours before the company said it was attacked in a coordinated hack.
In a Twitter post on Thursday, the company’s founder, Pavel Durov, indicated that the attack was likely initiated by China’s government. Mr. Durov said that the attack’s scale was consistent with a state actor, that much of the traffic came from within China, and that it matched a pattern of attacks on Telegram that have coincided with protests in Hong Kong.
On its official Twitter channel, Telegram confirmed the attack, but held back from attributing an origin. The company explained how the attack, in which servers are overrun with requests from a coordinated network of computers, worked: “Imagine that an army of lemmings just jumped the queue at McDonald’s in front of you — and each is ordering a Whopper. The server is busy telling the Whopper lemmings they came to the wrong place — but there are so many of them that the server can’t even see you to try and take your order.”
Such an attack, which can have the effect of slowing or halting service for an app, would likely have been aimed at disrupting the protesters’ coordination.
The police confirmed a 22-year-old man was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance. He was later identified in the local news media as Ivan Ip, the administrator of the Parade69 chat group, which has more than 20,000 members.
‘I hope it all works out,’ Trump says of protests.
While the leaders of democracies from around the world condemned the violence seen in the streets on Wednesday and called on the governments of Hong Kong and China to heed the will of the people, President Trump had a slightly different message.
“I hope it all works out for China and for Hong Kong,” said Mr. Trump, who has used typically less reconciliatory language in his continuing trade war with Beijing.
“I understand the reason for the demonstration, but I’m sure they will be able to work it out,” he added without offering specifics.
His remarks contrasted with those of other members of his party and administration, who have more forcefully condemned both the extradition law and the response to the protests. Some members of Congress suggested last month that if the law were to take effect it could upend the special status Washington accords the territory. Under a 1992 agreement, Hong Kong is the beneficiary of more liberal visa and investment regulations than the rest of China.
Also on Wednesday, Prime Minister Teresa May of Britain said her government was “concerned” about the developments in Hong Kong and said any changes to the extradition law had to be in accord with an agreement signed in 1997 between Britain and China at the time of the city’s handover.
Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan, where a murder last year by a Hong Kong resident inspired the proposed extradition law, wrote on Twitter that she was “utterly saddened to see the images of #HongKong police firing rubber bullets at protesters.”
“To the people of Hong Kong,” she continued, “you may feel your demands for freedom seem to fall on deaf ears, please know that all like-minded friends in #Taiwan & around the world are standing with you.”
A Chinese state newspaper gives a different take on Sunday’s mass protest.
News organizations across the globe covered the mammoth protests in Hong Kong on Sunday, when hundreds of thousands of protesters made their displeasure with the extradition bill known by marching through the streets, waving signs and chanting slogans.
But readers of China Daily, a Chinese state-run newspaper, saw a starkly different take on the event: “800,000 say ‘yes’ to rendition bill.”
It was a twisty headline even for a publication that faithfully sticks to the party line, prompting some to call it “Orwellian,” “staggering” and “bonkers.” The 800,000 figure — which at first glance might seem to refer to the masses on the streets — actually referred to an online signature campaign, which some observers have doubted is genuine.
The article listed several minor counterprotests while playing down the actual demonstration, mentioning it in a single sentence. It used the police-given estimate of 240,000 attendees, much lower than the million that organizers say participated. (Crowd counts are notoriously difficult to estimate and are often politically biased.)
The online article also included photos of roughly a dozen people holding pro-extradition signs, without any images of the giant throngs of anti-extradition protesters who took over much of downtown Hong Kong. China Daily did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The law that brought Hong Kong to the streets.
The measure before the legislature would allow Hong Kong to detain and transfer people wanted in countries and territories with which it has no formal extradition agreements. That includes the Chinese mainland.
Beijing has dismissed criticism of the law. One official newspaper said, “Any fair-minded person would deem the amendment bill a legitimate, sensible and reasonable piece of legislation that would strengthen Hong Kong’s rule of law and deliver justice.”
But critics say the law would allow virtually anyone in the city to be picked up and put on trial in mainland China, where judges must follow the orders of the Communist Party. They fear the new law would not just target criminals but political activists as well.
The extradition plan applies to 37 crimes. That excludes political ones, but critics fear the legislation would essentially legalize the sort of abductions to the mainland that have taken place in Hong Kong in recent years. The mainland Chinese authorities are typically not permitted to operate in the semiautonomous territory.
Reporting was contributed by Mike Ives, Tiffany May, Daniel Victor, Paul Mozur, Russell Goldman, Katherine Li, Amy Qin and Rick Gladstone.