More than 1 million protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong Sunday, organizers said, to oppose a controversial extradition bill that would enable China to extradite fugitives from the city, in what would be the largest demonstration since the city’s handover to China in 1997.
Civil Human Rights Front, the group that organized the protests, said more than 1.03 million people marched — a figure that accounts for almost one in seven of the city’s 7.48 million-strong population.
Hong Kong Police projected the number of protesters at closer to 240,000.
Critics say the bill will leave anyone on Hong Kong soil vulnerable to being grabbed by the Chinese authorities for political reasons or inadvertent business offenses and undermine the city’s semi-autonomous legal system.
The bill has caused political gridlock, outcry among the city’s usually pro-conservative business community, and even physical scuffles in the city’s legislature, as well as criticism of the Hong Kong government by the United States and European Union.
The government says the bill is designed to plug loopholes in current law, by allowing Hong Kong to decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not to send fugitives to territories where it doesn’t have formal extradition deals — such as Taiwan, Macau and mainland China. Lawmakers have said the guarantee of a fair trial will not be written into the bill.
On Sunday afternoon, protesters gathered at Victoria Park in central Hong Kong, waving placards and wearing white — the designated color of the rally. “Hong Kong, never give up!” some chanted.
Other protesters were heard chanting “step down,” “shelve the evil law,” “anti extradition to China,” and called for Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, to step down, as the marchers made their way along the 3km (1.86 miles) route to the Legislative Council in the Admiralty business district.
At least seven people were arrested, the police posted to Twitter.
At around 7:30 p.m. HK time (7:30 a.m. ET), five to six men with masks planned to occupy a main road in the city, Hong Kong Police said on Twitter.
Police said they used pepper spray on the protesters before they escaped the area. Officers urged protesters to disperse.
Thousands also gathered to protest against the extradition bill in cities across Australia Sunday. Similar marches are planned in other cities around the world, Hong Kong political group Demosisto said in a statement.
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