HONG KONG – Following a day of sit-ins, tear gas and clashes with police, Hong Kong students and civil rights activists vowed Wednesday to keep protesting a proposed extradition bill that has become a lightning rod for concerns over greater Chinese control and erosion of civil liberties in the former British colony.
The violence marked a major escalation of the biggest political crisis in years for the semi-autonomous Chinese territory and forced the delay of legislative debate on the contentious bill.
College student Louis Wong said he considered the blockade of government headquarters and the Legislative Council a success.
“This is a public space, and the police have no right to block us from staying here,” Wong said, surveying a garbage-strewn intersection in the Admiralty neighborhood that had been blocked off by security forces.
Protesters who had massed outside the government building overnight Tuesday began pressing against the police early Wednesday, leading to police firing tear gas and pepper spray.
A weekend protest of the extradition measure drew hundreds of thousands of people, and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said in a statement early today that the peaceful rally had become a “blatant, organized riot.”
Officers also were hurt, some seriously, by rocks, bottles, traffic cones, metal barricades and other items thrown by protesters.
As of 10 p.m. Wednesday, at least 72 people were brought to seven hospitals, with two in serious condition, the Hong Kong Hospital Authority said. Of those, 41 were later released, it added.
A curt government statement said a scheduled 11 a.m. legislative session would be “changed to a later time.” Some businesses also closed for the day, and labor strikes and class boycotts were called.
The protests by the bill's opponents are the largest since pro-democracy demonstrations closed down parts of the Asian financial center for more than three months in 2014.