Protesters gather again outside Hong Kong government offices

More than a thousand protesters blocked Hong Kong police headquarters into the night Friday, while others took over major streets as the tumult over the city’s future showed no signs of abating.

The latest protests came after a deadline passed for the government to meet demands related to controversial extradition legislation that many see as eroding the territory’s judicial independence.

Police called for demonstrators to disperse but have not taken firm action to remove them.

While the scene began peacefully, the presence again of protesters on busy Harcourt Road and in the lobby of the Revenue Tower raised the possibility of potentially violent confrontations.

“I now appeal to the members of the public to leave as soon as possible,” police spokesperson Yolanda Yu said at a news conference.

Protesters block the Inland Revenue building during Friday’s demonstration. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Outside, activist Joshua Wong called on police to answer demands over heavy-handed tactics used during a mass protest June 12, including the firing of 150 rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds, and the beating of unarmed protesters by police with truncheons.

“We … urge police to apologize to the people” over the use of such tactics and their definition of the gathering as a riot, Wong said.

Amnesty International criticizes ‘out of control’ police

Police seemed reluctant to use force Friday even as the protesters shut down roads in the centre of Hong Kong.

While anger seemed to be turning away from civil authorities and toward the police, the mostly black-clad protesters continued to try to shut down the entire government complex, as they have tried off-and-on for the past two weeks.

Amnesty International said police must “end the unlawful use of force against peaceful protesters,” and issuing a report documenting 14 incidents of apparent police violence on June 12.

Officers appeared “out of control, placing peaceful protesters who posed no threat in danger of serious injury,” Man-kei Tam, the group’s Hong Kong director, said in a statement.

Officers lock the gate of a police headquarter after protesters attempted to storm in. (Ann Wang/Reuters)

“The Hong Kong authorities should send a clear message that these failures in policing will not be tolerated. A thorough, independent and effective investigation needs to take place and any officers found responsible must face justice, at any level of the chain of command,” Tam said.

During the afternoon, some sought to build barriers on Connaught Road, the main thoroughfare in the area known as Admiralty, building barriers of stones, pylons and other materials at hand, at one time temporarily blocking in a police van.

The auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong’s Catholic diocese, the Rev. Joseph Ha, appealed to the protesters to avoid violence. He warned that public opinion could turn against them.

“You have already been on the roads for a long time,” he said on Cable TV Hong Kong. “You’ve already done a lot. You have already expressed very clearly your hopes and wishes. But I am really worried about your personal safety. … Please, absolutely, do not use violence.”

Lam under pressure

Protest leaders have said they are determined to keep up the pressure on territory leader Carrie Lam, who has shelved but not abandoned the extradition legislation. She has insisted the bill is needed to uphold justice, but critics see it as part of a campaign by Beijing to diminish Hong Kong’s democratic institutions.

“I myself am not the type to get involved in violence,” said student protester Brian Chow. “I’ll just carry on sitting here, sing some Christian hymns, show our resistance, and keep the government paralyzed until it responds to us.”

Another student, who would only give her first name, Yvonne, said she was determined to keep the movement’s momentum.

“I’m going to carry on coming out, and carry on protesting,” she said.

Many protesters have been wary of giving their full names and some have obscured their features with facemasks as a means of guarding their identities against potential retribution from government or school authorities.

Protesters form up barricades as they block one of the main streets in Hong Kong. (Ann Wang/Reuters)

Government offices were ordered closed Friday “due to security considerations,” and hearings at the Legislative Council were suspended.

Since the confrontations June 12, police have eased their approach, hoping to avoid a replay of 2014 protests, when officers unleashed 87 rounds of tear gas at protesters in the same location as the current protesters. When the smoke from that response cleared, bigger crowds returned, angrier than before, and didn’t leave for nearly three months.

The bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include mainland China, Taiwan and Macau. Legal and business groups in Hong Kong oppose the legislation, saying critics of China’s ruling Communist Party would be at risk of torture and unfair trials on the mainland and it further chips away at the “one country, two systems” framework under which Hong Kong has been governed since 1997.

That framework guaranteed the territory the right to retain its own legal, economic and political system for 50 years, but the Communist Party under Chinese President Xi Jinping has been pushing ever-more aggressively to quiet independent voices in Hong Kong. Beijing has squelched all reporting on the protests in mainland media and accused foreign forces of stirring up disturbances in Hong Kong.

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