Uneasy calm in Hong Kong after violence

Uneasy calm in Hong Kong after violence

World News
Hong Kong riot police are preparing for more clashes with protesters after days of violence.

Hong Kong riot police are preparing for more clashes with protesters after days of violence.

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Hong Kong authorities have shut government offices in the city's financial district for the rest of the week after a day of violence over an extradition bill...

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Hong Kong authorities have shut government offices in the city's financial district for the rest of the week after a day of violence over an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.

On Thursday a few hundred protesters milled around with some sorting their supplies of face masks and food as a widespread clean-up around the city's legislature took place.

Security remained tight with scores of uniformed police with helmets and shields in the area, while a long row of police vans were stationed alongside. Plain clothes police officers checked identification of morning commuters.

Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray in a series of skirmishes on Wednesday to clear demonstrators from the city's legislature. It was some of the worst violence in Hong Kong since Britain handed it back to Chinese rule in 1997.

The Hong Kong Hospital Authority said 72 people had been hospitalised by 10 pm on Wednesday.

The extradition bill, which will cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or travelling through the city, has sparked concerns it may threaten the rule of law that underpins Hong Kong's international financial status.

Wednesday night was the third night of violence since a protest on Sunday drew what organisers said was more than a million people in the biggest street demonstration since the 1997 handover.

Overnight several thousand demonstrators remained near the legislature in the Admiralty district, while thousands more retreated to the Central business district.

Hong Kong's benchmark stock exchange slid 1.5 per cent down in early trade on Thursday, extending losses from Wednesday afternoon as tensions escalated.

Most roads around the central business district were opening for traffic on Thursday, but Pacific Place, a prime shopping mall next to the legislature, remained closed.

Banks suspended branch services in the area until further notice.

Banks based in the Central district - the financial heart of the city - emphasised it was 'business as usual' but many offered staff, where possible, the option of working from home.

Hong Kong's China-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned the violence late on Wednesday and urged a swift restoration of order.

While acknowledging the controversy, Lam has refused to postpone or withdraw the bill, which she and her officials say is necessary to plug "loopholes" that are allowing the city to be a haven for criminals wanted on the mainland.

Lam has said the courts would provide human rights safeguards in vetting case-by-case extraditions to mainland China.

Opponents, including leading lawyers and rights groups, say China's justice system is marked by torture and forced confessions, arbitrary detention and poor access to lawyers.

Democratic lawmakers in an improptu media stand-up in the legislature on Thursday strongly criticised Lam's heavy handed police response.

"We are not a haven for criminals, but we have become a haven of violent police. Firing at our children? None of the former chief executives dared to do that," said legislator Fernando Cheung.

"But 'mother Carrie Lam' did it. What kind of mother is she, I have never seen such a evil hearted mother."

Concerns over the unrest saw Hong Kong's Tourism Board call off its Dragon Boat Carnival this weekend.

The European Union said in a statement it shared many of the concerns raised by citizens of Hong Kong regarding the proposed extradition reforms and called for an in depth inclusive public consultation to move forward.

Australian Associated Press

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