Hong Kong Police Use Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets In Clashes With Thousands Of Protesters
Updated at 1:50 p.m. ET
Riot police in Hong Kong fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons at protesters Wednesday, trying to break up demonstrations that blockaded the city's Legislative Council. The unrest forced lawmakers to delay debate on a controversial extradition bill that critics say would expose Hong Kong residents to China's judicial system.
Describing scenes of "all-out chaos," the South China Morning Post reports, "For the first time in the city's history, riot police used tear gas and smoke bombs inside the Legislative Council building to beat back protesters trying to storm the premises."
Many of the protesters had camped overnight in Tamar Park, in what the Morning Post called a display of defiance against China's Communist leaders. From there, the protesters moved to block traffic from reaching the legislature, where the extradition measure had been slated for discussion Wednesday.
Hong Kong's legislature is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority and the city's chief executive, Carrie Lam, owes her position to mainland Chinese authorities. On Wednesday, Lam called the demonstrations "organized riots," the BBC reports.
The British news service says at least 72 people have been injured in the violence, ranging in age from 15 and 66.
President Trump commented on the dispute Wednesday, saying: "They're massive demonstrations. I looked today, and that really is a million people."
Trump added, "That was as big a demonstration as I've ever seen. So, I hope it all works out for China and for Hong Kong."
In scenes reminiscent of the 2014 protests that brought the Asian financial hub to a standstill, protesters again thronged the city's main thoroughfares. The Admiralty district, a flashpoint for demonstrations in 2014 because of its role hosting central government offices, is a hot spot once again.
On social media, video circulated of police using truncheons to beat one protester.
The initial protests on Sunday drew hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets, but Wednesday's demonstrators were a younger crowd. Many wore surgical masks to hide their identities as they gathered in the city's Wan Chai district chanting "block the bill!" in the local Cantonese dialect.
The demonstrators are seeking to kill consideration of a bill that would allow people accused in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial, a move that protesters say violates the "one country, two systems" framework guaranteed to Hong Kong when British rule ended in 1997.
The bill's opponents, such as pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo, refer to it as "rendition." In recent weeks, Mo has warned that Hong Kong's government would try to fast-track the law at the behest of China's central government in Beijing.
Reporting from Hong Kong, NPR's Rob Schmitz, says that unlike Sunday's demonstrations, which saw many families turn out, "Today they are students and they are people in their 20s and they are angry — they came ready for a fight."
In the scuffles, there have been injuries among both police and protesters, according to Schmitz.
Candy Lau, 18, just graduated from high school. Her dream is to become a doctor.
"They do not understand that Hong Kongers do not want to obey them," she said. "Because we have tried the taste of freedom and we will never obey them or be controlled by them."
Lam has vowed to press ahead with the extradition bill, which was first proposed in February and which supporters have described as an effort to close a legal loophole in Hong Kong and Macau, a former Portuguese colony handed back to China in 1999.
Despite assurances enshrined in Hong Kong's Basic Law that it would enjoy a "high-degree of autonomy" after the handover, Beijing has steadily chipped away at such guarantees and reneged on a promise to allow open legislative elections.
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