Hong Kong Braces for more Protests Over Extradition Law

Vastavam web: Pressure on Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam was mounting Saturday, with signs emerging that she may delay an unpopular extradition bill that has drawn hundreds of thousands of people into the streets in protest. Lam was expected to hold a news conference at 3 p.m. (0700 GMT), the government said in an announcement. It gave no details about what she planned to say.

Another mass protest was expected on Sunday, after clashes that turned violent on Wednesday, leaving about 80 people injured including 22 police officers. The standoff between police and protesters in the former British colony is Hong Kong’s most severe political crisis since the Communist Party-ruled mainland took control in 1997 with a promise not to interfere with the city’s civil liberties and courts.

Opponents want her to withdraw the bill, which would allow Hong Kong suspects to be tried in mainland China. She has said she won’t, and has the backing of leaders in Beijing. Many protesters are demanding she quit. Protests died down late in the week, but around midnight Friday there were still dozens of youths singing and standing vigil near the city’s government headquarters, where demonstrators had tussled with police who deployed tear gas, pepper spray, hoses and steel batons as thousands pushed through barricades.

Police said 11 were arrested. Lam declared that Wednesday’s violence was “rioting,” potentially raising severe legal penalties for those arrested for taking part.

Many in Hong Kong fear the measures would undermine the former British colony’s legal autonomy. More than 1,000 people joined a peaceful “mother’s protest” Friday evening in a downtown garden. Adding to tensions, the extradition bill has drawn criticism from US and British lawmakers and human rights groups, prompting Beijing to lash back with warnings against “interference” in its internal affairs.

It is unclear how the local leadership might defuse the crisis, given Beijing’s strong support for the extradition bill and its distaste for dissent and for foreign pressure. Many experts believe Lam might be obliged to step down, assuming responsibility for the uproar the bill has raised.