Thousands of mainly student protesters in black marched in Hong Kong yesterday to press for the full withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill that has triggered violent protests and plunged the financial hub into political crisis.
Protesters gathered outside Hong Kong government offices, with some blocking traffic on a major thoroughfare, after a deadline passed for meeting their demands related to to the bill that many see as eroding the territory's judicial independence.
The protests, which pose the greatest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012, once again forced the temporary closure of government offices over security concerns.
The marchers demanded that the Government drop all charges against those arrested in last week's clashes, charge police with what they describe as violent action and stop referring to the protests as a riot.
Protest leaders have said they are determined to keep up the pressure on the Administration of territory leader Carrie Lam, potentially renewing demonstrations that have drawn hundreds of thousands into the streets in recent weeks.
"I myself am not the type to get involved in violence," said student protester Brian Chow. "I'll just carry on sitting here, sing some Christian hymns, show our resistance, and keep the Government paralysed until it responds to us."
Another student, who would only give her first name, Yvonne, said she was determined to keep the movement's momentum.
"I'm going to carry on coming out, and carry on protesting," she said.
Protesters have been wary of giving their full names and some have their faces so government or school authorities cannot identify them.
Government offices were ordered closed yesterday "due to security considerations".
After the recent protests, the largest and angriest in Hong Kong in years, Lam apologised and said she would shelve the legislation, but she stopped short of scrapping it altogether.
Critics say the bill allowing extraditions to mainland China and other places is part of a campaign by Beijing to chip away at the semi-autonomous region's democratic institutions.
Many of the protesters are calling for Lam's resignation, although others say that is immaterial since her replacement would be unlikely to change tack.
Outrage remains high over heavy-handed police tactics used against protesters on June 12, when tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds were used against protesters who were also beaten by police with truncheons. Lawmakers and others have complained that riot police wore no identification numbers on their uniforms, making it that much more difficult to file formal complaints.
Police have since eased their approach, hoping to avoid a replay of the events of September 2014, when officers unleashed 87 rounds of tear gas at protesters who had amassed in the same location as the current protesters.
When the smoke from that response cleared, bigger crowds returned, angrier than before, and didn't leave for nearly three months.
Hong Kong legal and business groups are also among those opposing the extradition bill, saying critics of China's ruling Communist Party would be at risk of torture and unfair trials on the mainland and it further chips away at the "one country, two systems" framework under which Hong Kong has been governed since 1997.
That framework guaranteed the territory the right to retain its own legal, economic and political system for 50 years, but the Communist Party under Chinese President Xi Jinping has been pushing ever-more aggressively to quiet independent voices in Hong Kong. Beijing has squelched all reporting on the protests in mainland media and accused foreign forces of stirring up disturbances in Hong Kong.
Lam has insisted the legislation is needed for Hong Kong to uphold justice and not become a magnet for fugitives. It would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include mainland China, Taiwan and Macau.