Two million out of Hong Kong’s total population of 7.4 million poured onto the city’s streets Sunday to demand the ouster of chief executive Carrie Lam following her failed bid to ratify a contentious extradition treaty with China.
It is the largest demonstration in Hong Kong’s brief history as an independent state and the largest in this current series of protests that began a week ago. Lam on Sunday apologized for the extradition law, saying the government had misjudged the public mood and should have held closer consultations with the people of Hong Kong.
“Carrie Lam — resign!” shouted protesters throughout the day.
Resentment of Lam and other Beijing appointed leaders still festers after Hong Kong police fired rubber bullets and bean bag rounds at protesters on Wednesday, injuring numbers of them. Police also pepper sprayed protesters.
More than 60 protesters and 22 police were injured in the sporadic clashes. Eleven protesters were arrested.
Lam was also blasted for describing the massive protests as “organized riots,” a depiction rejected by the protesters. On Sunday, Lam was loudly criticized for only suspending and not scrapping the extradition bill. Protesters are demanding she now junk the bill completely.
Lam and her allies, however, continue to argue the proposed extradition bill will “plug the loopholes” so Hong Kong won’t be a safe haven for criminals after a controversial murder case in Taiwan. On the other hand, critics contend the legislation will expose people in Hong Kong to China’s deeply flawed justice system with its incredible conviction rate of 99 percent. They also claim the extradition bill will also lead to further erosion of Hong Kong’s already threatened judicial independence.
“Today’s march we had almost two million people,” said Jimmy Sham from the Civil Human Rights Front protest group. Hong Kong police, however, said only 340,000 people showed-up Sunday.
Videos show the protest was mainly peaceful. The massively outnumbered police avoided confrontation. This contrasted to chaotic scenes on Wednesday where protesters and police clashed, injuring dozens.
The progress of the march Sunday, which began in Victoria Square, was slow with the stupendous numbers of people blocking streets. Many of the protesters wore black while others held aloft white flowers to mourn a protester who fell to his death on Saturday.
Lam’s government has now taken a conciliatory tone. In a statement, it said it understood the protesters’ views “have been made out of love and care for Hong Kong.” It also promised that Lam will adopt a more “sincere and humble attitude” towards public criticism.
Many protesters, however, insist they won’t settle for anything less than the bill being completely withdrawn.