HONG KONG (Reuters): Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Hong Kong yesterday dressed in black to demand the city’s embattled leader steps down, a day after she suspended an extradition bill in a dramatic retreat following the most violent protests in decades.
Some protesters carried white carnation flowers, while others held banners saying, “Do not shoot, we are HongKonger,” as they sought to avoid a repeat of the violence that rocked the financial centre on Wednesday when Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas.
First aid volunteers rushed to the scene as some protesters fainted as temperatures hovered around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). Others passed around water and fans as they left Victoria Park to march to government offices.
The crowds cheered when organisers called through loud hailers for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to step down. Beijing-backed Lam on Saturday indefinitely delayed the extradition bill that could send people to mainland China to face trial, expressing “deep sorrow and regret” although she stopped short of apologising.
The about-face was one of the most significant political turnarounds by the Hong Kong Government since Britain returned the territory to China in 1997, and it threw into question Lam’s ability to continue to lead the city.
The protests have plunged Hong Kong into political crisis, just as months of pro-democracy “Occupy” demonstrations did in 2014, heaping pressure on Lam’s administration and her official backers in Beijing.
The turmoil comes at a difficult time for Beijing, which is already grappling with an escalating US trade war, a faltering economy and tensions in the South China Sea.
The violent clashes near the heart of the financial centre on Wednesday, which saw more than 70 people hospitalised, grabbed global headlines and forced some shops and banks, including HSBC, to shut branches.
Activists yesterday pasted hundreds of fliers and notes to a wall near the protest site, with some reading, “Stop shooting innocent people”, and “Use your brain, violence is insane”.
At the start of the march, protesters paused for a minute’s silence to remember an activist who died from a fall on Saturday near the site of the recent demonstrations.