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Massive Protests Continue in Hong Kong 06/16 09:20

   Hong Kong citizens continue to protest legislation they fear will lead to 
expanded control from Beijing.

   HONG KONG (AP) -- Hong Kong citizens marched for hours Sunday in a massive 
protest that drew a late-in-the-day apology from the city's top leader for her 
handling of legislation that has stoked fears of expanding control from Beijing 
in this former British colony.

   The demonstration looked likely to match in scale one a week earlier that 
brought as many as 1 million people out to express their concern over Hong 
Kong's relations with mainland China in one of the toughest tests of the 
territory's special status since China took control in a 1997 handover.

   Well after dark, crowds gathered outside the police headquarters and Chief 
Executive Carrie Lam office. On Saturday Lam suspended her effort to force 
passage of the bill, which would allow some suspects to be sent for trial in 
mainland China.

   The move did not appease Hong Kong residents angered over the plan who see 
it as one of many steps chipping away at Hong Kong's freedoms and legal 
autonomy. Opponents worry the law could be used to send criminal suspects to 
China to potentially face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair 
trials.

   Protesters are also angered over forceful tactics by police in quelling 
unrest at a June 12 demonstration.

   Periodically, the shouts of the protesters standing shoulder-to-shoulder in 
front of the police headquarters would crescendo in a roar that reverberated 
through the narrow concrete canyons of the red-light district of Wanchai.

   Smaller crowds stood chanting outside Lam's office building. 

   The statement issued late Sunday said mentioned the demonstrations and said 
the government "understands that these views have been made out of love and 
care for Hong Kong."

   "The chief executive apologized to the people of Hong Kong for this and 
pledged to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and 
make improvements in serving the public," it said.

   The marchers want Lam to scrap the extradition bill, which is supported by 
the communist leadership in Beijing, and to resign.

   The crowds filled a wide thoroughfare and side streets paralleling the 
waterfront of Victoria Harbor as tourists and shoppers who drive much of the 
Asian financial hub's economy looked on.

   At the march's end, hundreds sat wearily around the city government 
headquarters. Some were singing. Some listening to speeches. Some just resting.

   "Our demands are simple. Carrie Lam must leave office, the extradition law 
must be withdrawn and the police must apologize for using extreme violence 
against their own people," bank worker John Chow said as he marched with a 
group of his friends. "And we will continue."

   Protesters have mainly focused their anger on Lam, who had little choice but 
to carry through dictates issued by Beijing, where President Xi Jinping has 
enforced increasingly authoritarian rule.

   Many here believe Hong Kong's legal autonomy has been significantly 
diminished despite Beijing's insistence that it is still honoring its promise, 
dubbed "one country, two systems," that the territory can retain its own 
social, legal and political system for 50 years after the handover.

   The rally drew marchers both young and old, some pushing strollers or 
carrying slumbering infants. Few wore face masks or seemed to be trying to hide 
their identities, in contrast with demonstrations Wednesday, when participants 
expressed worries over possible retribution from the authorities.

   Protesters also are angry over the way police used tear gas, rubber bullets 
and other forceful measures as demonstrators broke through barricades outside 
the city government's headquarters in that smaller but more aggressive protest.

   The police presence Sunday was considerably more relaxed, with officers 
deployed mainly to direct traffic as the protesters wound their way through 
Hong Kong's commercial center from a sprawling downtown park to government 
headquarters.

   Farther down the parade route, mourners lined up to lay flowers and pay 
respects at a makeshift memorial for a man who fell to his death Saturday after 
hanging a protest banner that read in part, "Make Love, No Shoot" and "No 
Extradition to China."

   The man slipped from the grasp of rescuers after clinging for a time to 
scaffolding outside a shopping mall. He missed a large cushion set up to 
capture him, and was declared dead at a nearby hospital.

   Many protesters wore ribbons on their shirts and carried placards showing 
protesters who had been beaten bloody last week.

   Pro-democracy activists were calling for a general strike on Monday despite 
Lam's decision to suspend work on the legislation. Some labor unions, teachers 
associations and other groups were planning boycotts of work and classes, 
demanding the Lam administration retire the proposed amendments and not bring 
them up again for passage at a later stage.

   "We encourage all the public to carry on the campaign," said Bonnie Leung, a 
leader of the pro-democracy group Civil Human Rights Front. "If any new 
violence takes place, it will be the responsibility of the police."

   The Communist Party-ruled mainland took control in 1997 with a promise not 
to interfere with the city's civil liberties and courts. Many in Hong Kong fear 
the extradition bill would undermine freedoms enjoyed here but not elsewhere in 
China.

   "China just wants to turn Hong Kong into another Chinese city," said Alex 
To, 54, who runs a small business. "Carrie Lam is just a figurehead. Everything 
depends on the attitudes of the leaders in Beijing."

   After Lam announced she was suspending the legislation to avoid more 
violence and allow additional debate, Chinese government officials issued 
multiple statements backing that decision. Lam, however, made clear she was not 
withdrawing it.

   She has sidestepped questions over whether she should quit and also defended 
how the police dealt with last week's clashes with demonstrators.

   Lam maintains that the extradition legislation is needed if Hong Kong is to 
uphold justice, meet its international obligations and not become a magnet for 
fugitives. The proposed bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect 
transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.

   So far, China has been excluded from Hong Kong's extradition agreements 
because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record.

   Prosecutions of activists, detentions without trial of five Hong Kong book 
publishers and the illegal seizure in Hong Kong by mainland agents of at least 
one mainland businessman are among moves in recent years that have unnerved 
many in the city of 7 million.


(CZ)

 
 
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