Hundreds of thousands of people turned out to protest peacefully in Hong Kong as the opposition to a proposed extradition bill enters its eleventh week.
More than 1.7 million protesters congregated downtown in Hong Kong's Victoria Park on Sunday afternoon to protest the controversial legislation, according to The Guardian. They did so in defiance of police orders and, as they moved to city streets, compelled law enforcement officials to block off traffic. The protest continued even as it began to rain, with protesters moving toward Central, Hong Kong's business district, and surrounding government headquarters.
The protests were widely described as civil and well managed, with protesters who began shining laser pointers at a government building being told to leave by other protest leaders, according to the Associated Press. The lack of violence at the Sunday protest was notable; previous demonstrations have been marred by clashes between police and protesters, with each side claiming the other one initiated the violence.
"We hope to see whether the government gives a response to this peaceful protest. If we get a negative response, we cannot control the next (gathering)," Michael Leung, a 24-year-old protester, told the wire service. The Hong Kong government responded to the protests by emphasizing that they had been "generally peaceful" and claiming that their priority had been "to restore social order as soon as possible."
In response to the public meeting held in Victoria Park today (August 18), a Government spokesman said that though the public meeting was generally peaceful, the participants occupied a number of thoroughfares on Hong Kong Island, seriously affecting traffic and causing much inconvenience to the community. The Transport Department and the Police have actively co-ordinated with concerned parties to minimise the impact.
The spokesman reiterated that it was most important to restore social order as soon as possible. The Government will begin sincere dialogue with the public, mend social rifts and rebuild social harmony when everything has calmed down.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has attempted to address the ongoing social tumult by arguing that the extradition bill isn't going to be passed, but she has not formally withdrawn it either, according to CNN. As a result, many Hong Kong residents are concerned that the extradition bill could still be implemented.
"On the 18th of June, I expressed my sincere apology. The cause of these grievances are caused by the government. There are still lingering doubts about whether the government will restart the bill. There is no such plan. The bill is dead," Lam said in a statement last month. The Hong Kong leader previously said that the bill had "laudable" goals even as she promised to "sincerely and humbly take criticism" in the future. The measure was first pushed for after a Hong Kong resident murdered a pregnant woman in Taiwan but was unable to be either extradited to Taiwan to face criminal trial or be tried for murder in his native Hong Kong. Many Hong Kong residents are concerned that the extradition bill, however, could be used by the authoritarian Chinese government to target innocent Hong Kong citizens.