Hong Kong authorities fired rubber bullets, tear gas, and high-pressure water hoses on demonstrators who had gathered outside the city’s headquarters on Wednesday to protest a controversial extradition bill that is widely seen as Beijing’s encroachment over the semiautonomous territory.
The escalation of force came hours after the government postponed debate on the bill until later this month.
Some protesters threw rocks, bottles, metal barricades and umbrellas at police. Police had reportedly warned the protesters that they would use force.
After some protesters appeared to have breached a police barricade around offices, police responded by firing nonlethal projectiles.
Authorities searched some protesters and their bags as they began leaving the scene. Livestreamed reports from local television stations showed remaining protesters putting plastic wrap around their arms, wetting face masks and tightening goggles to protect themselves from tear gas and pepper spray.
The scene was reminiscent of Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy “Umbrella Revolution,” for which nine leaders were convicted in April on public nuisance and other charges.
Several protestors cited by The Associated Press said earlier they hoped Wednesday’s actions would persuade the government to shelve the proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance.
“We won’t leave till they scrap the law,” said one protester cited by Reuters.
“The President of the Legislative Council has directed that the council meeting of June 12 scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. today be changed to a later time to be determined by him,” the council said in a statement. “Members will be notified of the time of the meeting later.”
Staff members were advised not to go into work and those already on the premises were told to “stay at their working place until further notice.”
Under its “one country, two systems” framework, Hong Kong was supposed to be guaranteed the right to retain its own social, legal and political systems for 50 years following its handover from British rule in 1997. However, many regard China’s ruling Communist Party as having reneged on that agreement by forcing through unpopular legal changes.
Hong Kong’s 70-seat Legislative Council is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.
Despite overwhelming opposition, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has defended the legislation as necessary to close legal loopholes with other countries and territories, Reuters reported. A vote was scheduled on June 20.
“Carrie Lam has underestimated us,” said another protester cited by Reuters. “We won’t let her get away with this.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.