At least 500,000 protesters took to the streets this weekend in Hong Kong to march against a proposed extradition law that would allow suspects of crimes to be tried and jailed in mainland China, with city Chief Executive Carrie Lam's job very much up in the air.
Hong Kong was plunged into a fresh political crisis on Sunday night after more than half a million people took to the streets to thwart a proposed extradition law that would allow suspects to be sent to mainland China to face trial.
Organizers said the turnout outstripped a demonstration in 2003 when 500,000 hit the streets to challenge government plans for tighter national security laws.
Those laws were later shelved and a key government official forced to resign. Sunday’s outpouring was already raising the pressure on the administration of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her official backers in Beijing.
“She has to withdraw the bill and resign,” veteran Democratic Party lawmaker James To told crowds outside the city’s parliament and government headquarters on Sunday night.
“The whole of Hong Kong is against her.”
After To spoke, thousands were still arriving, having started the march five hours earlier, filling four lanes of a major thoroughfare. Some sat in a nearby park singing “Hallelujah” while police increased their numbers around the area.
Lam had yet to comment on the rally. The demonstration capped weeks of growing outrage in the business, diplomatic and legal communities, which fear corrosion of Hong Kong’s legal autonomy and the difficulty of ensuring basic judicial protections in mainland China.
The protest descended into violence in the early hours of Monday as several hundred protesters clashed with a similar number of police outside the city’s parliament.
Protesters charged police lines to try to force their way into the Legislative Council building, and police charged back, using pepper spray, after warning the protesters. The standoff ended in the early hours of Monday.
U.S. and European officials have issued formal warnings - concern matched by international business and human rights lobbies that fear the changes would dent Hong Kong’s rule of law. The former British colony was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997 amid guarantees of autonomy and various freedoms including a separate legal system, which many diplomats and business leaders believe is the city’s strongest remaining asset.
This would be the equivalent of a half million people taking to the streets of New York City. People are going to pay attention, and we'll see if Lam survives.