Asia-Pacific

Protesters move on after massive Hong Kong rally

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Demonstrators have left Hong Kong's streets after Sunday's massive protest march against a proposed bill allowing extraditions to mainland China.

Protesters in Hong Kong have left the streets, averting possible clashes after haggling for hours with police by moving to areas near the city's government headquarters.

The demonstrators who stayed after Sunday's massive protest march were seen streaming into a space outside Hong Kong's Legislative Council on Monday morning.

The activists have rejected an apology from Chief Executive Carrie Lam for her handling of proposed changes to extradition law, which has stoked fears of expanding control from Beijing in this former British colony.

Shortly after daybreak, the police had asked for cooperation in clearing the road but said the protesters could stay on the sidewalks. 

For a time, the protesters, many in masks and other gear to guard against the possible use of tear gas, responded with chants, some kneeling in front of the officers.

Hundreds were lying or sitting on the roads until they agreed to move to the plaza outside the government building and a spacious nearby park.

Activists had called on Hong Kong residents to boycott school and work, though it was unclear how many might heed that call.

Nearly two million of the city's seven million people turned out on Sunday, according to estimates by protest organisers.

A woman and a child wearing protective gear joins tens of thousands of protesters marching through the streets in protest of an extradition bill.
A woman and a child wearing protective gear joins tens of thousands of protesters marching through the streets in protest of an extradition bill.
AAP

Police said 338,000 were counted on the designated protest route at the peak of the march.

A week earlier, as many as one million people demonstrated over Hong Kong's relations with mainland China in one of the toughest tests of the territory's special status since Beijing took control in a 1997 handover.

The scenes were similar to those seen nearly five years earlier when protesters camped for weeks in the streets to protest rules that prevented the direct election of the city's chief executive, the top local official.

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Thousands remain on street after dark following 'largest Hong Kong protest in 30 years'
Thousands remain on street after dark following 'largest Hong Kong protest in 30 years'

One of the activists arrested after those demonstrations, Joshua Wong, was released from prison Monday after serving half of a two-month jail sentence for contempt.

He told journalists he needed a bit of time, but: "No matter what happens, I will join the protest soon."

After daybreak on Monday, police announced they wanted to clear the streets. Lines of officers then faced off against several hundred demonstrators on a central Hong Kong street.

On Sunday night, thousands gathered outside the city government headquarters and the office of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who on Saturday suspended her effort to force passage of the bill.

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Thousands remain on street after dark following 'largest Hong Kong protest in 30 years'
Thousands remain on street after dark following 'largest Hong Kong protest in 30 years'

Hong Kong residents worry that allowing some suspects to be sent for trial in mainland China would be another of many steps chipping away at Hong Kong's freedoms and legal autonomy.

One concern is that the law might be used to send criminal suspects to China to potentially face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials.

The protesters are demanding that Lam scrap the proposal for good and that she step down.

Protesters are also angered over the forceful tactics by police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other forceful measures as demonstrators broke through barricades outside the city government's headquarters.

In a statement issued late Sunday, Lam noted the demonstrations and said the government "understands that these views have been made out of love and care for Hong Kong".

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

Not enough, said the pro-democracy activists."This is a total insult to and fooling the people who took to the street!" the Civil Human Rights Front said in a statement.

Anger at police

The international finance hub was rocked Wednesday by the worst political violence since before its 1997 handover to China as tens of thousands of protesters were dispersed by baton-wielding riot police.

Many placards in the crowd Sunday accused police of using excessive force.

"You're supposed to protect us not shoot at us," read one banner.

Protesters raise placards as they march on the streets against an extradition bill in Hong Kong.
Protesters raise placards as they march on the streets against an extradition bill in Hong Kong.
AAP

"The police should not use rubber bullets, tear gas, and bean bag rounds to deal with the students," protester Ben Choi told AFP.

Nearly 80 people were injured in this week's unrest, including 22 police officers, with both sides showing a willingness to escalate their behaviour to levels unseen before in the usually stable business hub.

Hong Kong diaspora and critics of the bill overseas also held protests, including in Melbourne on Sunday.

'Restore calm to the community'

The extradition furore is just the latest chapter in what many see as a battle for the soul of Hong Kong.

For the last decade, the city has been convulsed by political turbulence between the pro-Beijing authorities and opponents who fear an increasingly assertive China is stamping on the city's unique freedoms and culture.

But opposition to the extradition bill has united an unusually wide cross-section of Hong Kong from influential legal and business bodies, to religious leaders.

Lam's decision to ignore those warnings, and press ahead with the bill even after last weekend's massive rally, has placed her administration under pressure from both her opponents and her own allies.

Advisers and pro-establishment lawmakers urged her to delay the bill after Wednesday's violence while Beijing began to distance itself from her administration.

Her climbdown was also a rare example of the city's unelected leaders caving to demonstrations, something more recent administrations have been increasingly unwilling to do.

Two months of protests in 2014 calling for the right to directly Hong Kong's leader won no concessions from Beijing and key figures from that movement are now in jail.

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13 June: Protesters gather in Sydney to condemn Hong Kong extradition law
13 June: Protesters gather in Sydney to condemn Hong Kong extradition law

'Keep the heat on' 

But anger over the extradition law has reinvigorated Hong Kong's democracy movement.

Estimates of Sunday's crowd size will not be available until the evening but huge amounts of people were still joining the start four hours after the rally set off.

Police opened up more roads than usual with demonstrators packing four major arteries on their way to parliament.

Earlier in the day, activists had hung a huge banner from Lion Rock mountain that read "Defend Hong Kong".

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam delayed a controversial China extradition bill on Saturday after recent protests.
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam delayed a controversial China extradition bill on Saturday after recent protests.
AAP

Inside China, the internet was being scrubbed of references to the massive rally with entries for Hong Kong on search engines and social media platforms showing no sign of the demonstration.

Police said they had no choice but to use force to meet violent protesters who besieged their lines outside the city's parliament on Wednesday.

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13 June: Violence will not be tolerated': Hong Kong leader Lam on extradition bill protests
13 June: Violence will not be tolerated': Hong Kong leader Lam on extradition bill protests

But critics - including legal and rights groups - say officers used the actions of a tiny group of violent protesters as an excuse to unleash a sweeping crackdown on the predominantly young, peaceful protesters.

"The pro-democracy group will not stop at this point, they want to build on the momentum against Carrie Lam," political analyst Willy Lam told AFP. "They will keep the heat on and ride the momentum."

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