Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam issued a warning that “violence will not be tolerated” in the wake of mass protests that swept through the former British colony on Wednesday.
- Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said change should not be reached by “radical and violent means”
- Her comments follow a day of violence between riot police and protesters against extradition changes
- Opponents say China’s justice system is marked by torture and forced confessions
Government offices in the city shut down on Thursday, a day after protesters took to the streets demonstrating against changes to an extradition law that could see people sent to China for trial.
Riot police flung tear gas, fired rubber bullets, and used capsicum spray and batons in attempts to disperse hundreds of thousands of demonstrators.
Seventy-two people were taken to hospital, two with serious injuries, in some of the worst violence in Hong Kong since Britain handed it back to Chinese rule in 1997.
Police and protesters were readying for potential further clashes on Thursday, but streets began to clear after rain fell on the city and a clean-up was underway.
Ms Lam condemned yesterday’s “distressing scenes” and labelled them “riots”.
“These acts of rioting, which damage social peace and disregard the law, are intolerable in any civilised society,” she said.
“Clearly, this is no longer a peaceful assembly but a blatant, organised riot, and in no way an act of loving Hong Kong.”
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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam says she has the city’s best interests at heart.ABC NEWS
Opponents say China’s justice system is marked by torture and forced confessions, but Ms Lam has said the courts would provide human rights safeguards in vetting case-by-case extraditions to mainland China.
She accused protesters of carrying out “dangerous and even life-threatening acts” and told them to “calm down”.
“If a goal can be reached by radical and violent means, such scenes will become more severe, which will definitely put Hong Kong in harm’s way,” she said.
Ms Lam teared up as she denied she was “selling out” Hong Kong and urged people to refrain from violence, saying she didn’t want to see anyone else hurt.
Sam Lung, a Canadian-Hong Kong journalist who joined the protest last night, he said the protesters were “calm and organised” before the police took action against them.
“The police waved the red flag, which is a warning that indicates the use of force to disperse the crowd,” he said.
‘Heartbreak’ at home over Hong Kong scenes
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Police and protesters clash in Hong Kong as demonstrations turn violent.ABC NEWS
A group of Hong Kong students based in Queensland said it was heartbreaking to see the violence unfold in Hong Kong.
Zoe Leung, 18, speaking on behalf of a group of Hong Kong students in Brisbane, said many in Australia were feeling helpless and frustrated.
“It is torturing for us to see the current situation in Hong Kong, not only because we feel powerless watching the place we grew up in turning into chaos and there is essentially nothing we can do about it,” she said.
“It is just heartbreaking to see our loved ones in Hong Kong be violently repressed by the Hong Kong police force.”
Former New South Wales MP Helen Sham-Ho said fear about the possible abuse of power by China was driving protests.
Ms Sham-Ho was raised in Hong Kong and said authorities must consult more with the community.
“The fear is concerning when extradition happens, whether there is any guarantee of human rights,” she said.
In a statement, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said any changes to extradition agreements should follow regular processes and respect Hong Kong’s autonomy.
She said Australia had raised its concerns about the changes at senior levels of the Hong Kong Government.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advised travellers to avoid large public gatherings as they may encounter protests.
Hong Kong laws ‘are purely China’s internal affairs’
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Many in Hong Kong oppose the proposed law, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.ABC NEWS
Chinese state media said in editorials published on Thursday that the protests were “hammering” Hong Kong’s reputation.
“It is lawlessness that will hurt Hong Kong, not the proposed amendments to its fugitive law,” said the English-language China Daily.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang said China “firmly supports” Hong Kong’s moves to change the law.
“Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs,” he said.
“No other country, organisation or individual has the right to interfere. China deplores and firmly opposes the irresponsible and erroneous comments on the amendment and other Hong Kong affairs made by the US side.”
The US State Department said on Monday it was gravely concerned about the proposed amendments to the extradition laws and warned that such a move could jeopardise the special status Washington affords Hong Kong, but US President Donald Trump said he hoped Hong Kong and China “worked it out”.
When asked if China had used the People’s Liberation Army to attack protesters, Mr Geng rebuked the journalist and dismissed it as fake news.
“I can assure you that it is a groundless rumour designed to mislead the public and incite panic,” he said.