Police fended off demonstrators with rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas in Hong Kong Wednesday, as the fourth consecutive day of protests over a proposed extradition law turned violent.
The protesters, who were descending on the city’s Legislative Council, succeeded Wednesday in delaying debate on a controversial bill that would allow suspects to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China. The bill was set to be discussed Wednesday, but protesters prevented lawmakers from accessing the building.
Supporters of the bill say it’s a necessary move to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a haven for fugitives. But opponents fear the erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong and potential abuse of the law by China, as the Guardian explains:
Many Hong Kongers fear the proposed extradition law will be used by authorities to target political enemies. They worry the new legislation spells the end of the “one country, two systems” policy, eroding the civil rights enjoyed by Hong Kong residents since the handover of sovereignty from the UK to China in 1997.
In a statement that aired Wednesday evening, Hong Kong’s city leader Carrie Lam said, “I hope society will return to order quickly and no one gets hurt in riots again. I urge everyone who loves this place to stay away from violence.”
Hong Kong police commissioner Stephen Lo described the scene Wednesday as a “riot.” The Civil Human Rights Front, which helped organize the protests, pushed back against that characterization, saying citizens hadn’t rioted and calling on the international community “to intervene, denounce the Hong Kong government’s violent suppression and to withdraw the extradition bill.”
The protests began Sunday, when Hong Kong’s streets swelled with hundreds of thousands of protesters.
Organizers say more than 1 million people took to the streets Sunday, while police estimated that only a quarter of a million protesters came out.