Protesters again took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, a day after the government suspended its extradition bill but balked at withdrawing the controversial proposal.
Large crowds spilled out of subway stations and packed streets along the march route, many wearing black and carrying placards. “It’s about justice,” said Roxy, a 25 year old administrator who gave only her first name.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, on Saturday said she would mothball the proposal, following protests that saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets and which drew international condemnation from lawyers, businesses and the US government.
Ms Lam emphasised she had suspended rather than withdrawn the bill, arguing the amendment was well intended but had been poorly communicated to the people of Hong Kong.
Opposition to the proposed bill, which critics claim would allow anyone passing through the territory to be taken across the border to stand trial in mainland China on potentially trumped-up charges, resulted in violent clashes on the streets of Asia’s leading financial centre.
“Ultimately we just don’t trust the legal system in China,” said Alice Wong, a computer science student. “The so-called safeguards against political charges [implemented by the Hong Kong government in the extradition bill] aren’t enough.”
Protesters are also calling on the government to revise their description of Wednesday’s event as a “riot” and for Ms Lam to stand down.
By mid afternoon crowds of people had amassed at the start of the planned route on Hong Kong island. “The main psychology [today] is that last week’s demonstration of people power worked.,” said Willy Lam, a China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, speaking from the protest.
“So everyone is back again to savour their victory, to show the government that they are ready and able to mobilise one million people again.”
Protesters want a complete withdrawal of the legislation and for Ms Lam to step down. “We want them to withdraw all the charges against the demonstrators, said a retired civil servant who was on the march. “And most important we want the withdrawal of the bill.”
Flyers advertising the event were being sent to iPhones on Sunday morning, using the airdrop function at major thoroughfares and subway hubs including Central and Tsim Sha Tsui.
Online posts gave packing recommendations — water, masks and energy bars — and encouraged marchers to bring flowers and paper cranes to mark the spot where a man fell to his death on Saturday while protesting the bill. Many of the protesters were carrying white flowers in tribute.
Sunday’s march followed clashes between police and protesters last Wednesday, when at least 94 people were injured and central Hong Kong was brought to a standstill. Police used an estimated 150 rounds of tear gas, 20 bean bag rounds, several rubber bullets and batons against protesters
Police commissioner Lo Wai-chung said the police acted in self-defence after protesters, armed with metal poles and wooden boards, threw bricks at them.
Eleven protesters were arrested for illegal assembly, assault and rioting. Ms Lam, who has declined to apologise for her handling of the extradition bill debacle, defended the police at the press conference on Saturday.
She said her decision to suspend the bill was prompted by Wednesday’s violence, rather than because of the biggest protest in 30 years last Sunday when an estimated 1m people — roughly one in seven of the population — marched through the streets to oppose the extradition bill.
Ms Lam, who has repeatedly denied Beijing ordered her to push through the extradition law, said she had asked for and received the support of Beijing to indefinitely postpone the bill.
Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said it “supported, respected and understood” the decision and would continue to back Ms Lam and her government.
“The central government is paying close attention to the recent anti-extradition law protests in Hong Kong as well as reactions in Hong Kong society,” it said.
Others were less swayed. “Carrie Lam has lost credibility among the Hong Kong people,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo. “She must step down.”
Additional reporting by Emma Boyd and Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong