Protesters began streaming in towards the Hong Kong government headquarters early Friday (June 21) morning, joining others who had camped there overnight after the administration ignored a deadline the previous day to withdraw a controversial extradition Bill.
They have vowed to escalate matters on Friday and cut off access to the roads surrounding the government central offices in Tamar, Admiralty until their list of demands are met.
These include a complete withdrawal of the proposed law – plans for which have been indefinitely suspended – for the June 12 protests not to be categorised as a riot, for everyone arrested for rioting to be released, and for the police to be investigated for abuse of power during the protests.
By about 7.45am on Friday, hundreds of mostly young black-clad protesters had massed outside the Legislative Council (LegCo) building as more gathered.
Student Kenneth Lau, 16, said he was with friends and would “do whatever it takes” until Chief Executive Carrie Lam responds to protesters.
“Why is she keeping quiet? She needs to talk to us and properly explain why police treated students this way last week,” he said, referring to the police’ firing of rubber bullets and tear gas.
The government offices are closed on Friday, in anticipation of street rallies.
Protest organisers read out a letter from a supporter in Taiwan, who also sent over a box of snacks with notes of encouragement.
On social media and posters stuck on glass panels of buildings in the vicinity, the same message echoed – “We do not disperse if the Bill is not fully withdrawn”.
Given that the government has indefinitely suspended plans for the Bill, it will automatically lapse when the current Legislative Council’s four-year term ends in July 2020. But the protesters, who have held several massive rallies since June 9, remain insistent.
High school student Winnie Choi, 16, said on Thursday night that she would return to Tamar on Friday morning to show solidarity with the protesters.
“Although this may not result in any change or get Carrie Lam to have a dialogue with us, it’s better that we come over to see how we can be of help than staying at home and watching things unfold,” she said, referring to the embattled Hong Kong leader who has come under pressure to resign over the protests.
The divisive extradition Bill, mooted in February, was intended to allow Hong Kong to send fugitives to jurisdictions it does not have such agreements with, including mainland China.
But Hong Kongers’ distrust of the Chinese legal system fuelled fears that they could be targeted under this law without receiving a fair trial or human rights protection.
Mrs Lam, who has publicly apologised twice for her handling of the situation, had tried to allay such fears saying the proposed changes initiated by her, and not Beijing, were in line with international norms meant to prevent the city from becoming a haven for fugitives.
Secretary for Security John Lee had said that the proposed amendments were watered down twice and that the government, after listening to public feedback, had put in place additional safeguards.
But many did not accept these explanations and protest organisers say over a million people took to the streets on June 9. At the rally a week later, organisers said two million people marched to demonstrate their opposition to the Bill.
Tensions peaked on June 12 when the Bill was to be tabled for a second reading, with protesters surrounding the government complex to prevent lawmakers from entering.
Violent clashes broke out, with some protesters throwing bricks and metal poles at police officers, who retaliated with rubber bullets and tear gas.
More than 80 people were injured and 32 were arrested. Eight of those arrested were later freed unconditionally.