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Legislature holds off debate as protesters regroup.
The president of the Legislative Council said Thursday that the lawmaking body would delay meeting by at least another day after Hong Kong was brought to a standstill on Wednesday by protests against a contentious bill that would allow residents of the semiautonomous city to be extradited mainland China for trial.
Reporters and camera crews arrived early Thursday expecting to witness a fiery debate inside the Legislative Council, only to find an eerily hushed building surrounded by quiet streets.
A day earlier, the streets outside the building were the site of the most pitched clashes between protesters and the police, who used rubber bullets and tear gas to keep the crowd at bay. Though forced to retreat from the area closest to the council complex, protesters were successful in blocking nearby roads and preventing the council from holding its second scheduled debate on the bill.
[What caused the protests? We took a look at the proposed extradition bill that has outraged residents.]
Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy legislator, welcomed news of the delay.
“It’s the right thing to do” given the size of the protests, Ms. Mo said in an interview at the Legislative Council. She added that the ground around the Legislative Council was still littered with debris from the protest and “not quite ready to be open for business.”
Ms. Mo acknowledged that the bill was likely to pass through the body but said the efforts to combat it were worthwhile.
“If you don’t fight, you don’t get anything,” she said.
The legislature previously said it would bring the bill to a vote next Thursday, after holding more than 60 hours of debate. The legislation is expected to pass the 70-member council, which is controlled by a faction aligned with the central government in Beijing.
The site of Wednesday’s demonstration was almost entirely clear of protesters early Thursday as thunderstorms rolled across the city. Trash crews cleared the usually pristine streets of surgical masks, water bottles and other debris.
As the rain cleared, riot police officers in black helmets and blue shirts emerged from the council building, and began slowly circling the park in a pack, albeit without drawing their shields or weapons.
The police have an arsenal of painful projectiles.
The clouds of stinging tear gas captured much of the attention Wednesday in the protests that roiled central Hong Kong. But the police who repelled the protesters also brought an array of other anti-riot weaponry to the showdown, including powerful new pepper-spray nozzles and projectiles known as bean bag rounds or “supersock rounds.”
The bean bags are really tiny, pillow-shaped fabric pockets filled with small lead pellets — no beans involved. They are usually fired from a 12-gauge shotgun, and are not considered lethal.
“The bean bag round is designed to deliver a blow that will cause minimum long-term trauma and no penetration to the body,” says an article about the weapon on officer.com, a police equipment website.
The article says the weapons have become more popular, in part in response to increased complaints of deadly force by officers in confrontations. “Some are arming themselves with bean bag shotguns,” it said. “The rounds fired from these guns can take down an assailant but usually don’t result in a fatality.”
The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s English-language daily, said that besides standard riot gear like batons, shields and helmets, the police were equipped with “big mouth guns,” which can fire rubber projectiles with a range up to 20 meters.
And having learned from a 2016 riot when more than 100 officers were hurt, the newspaper said, the police have acquired three vehicles armed with water cannons and “powerful jets for dispensing pepper spray-based solution.”
The law that brought Hong Kong to the streets.
The measure before the legislature would allow Hong Kong to detain and transfer people wanted in countries and territories with which it has no formal extradition agreements. That includes the Chinese mainland.
Beijing has dismissed criticism of the law. One official newspaper said, “Any fair-minded person would deem the amendment bill a legitimate, sensible and reasonable piece of legislation that would strengthen Hong Kong’s rule of law and deliver justice.”
But critics say the law would allow virtually anyone in the city to be picked up and put on trial in mainland China, where judges must follow the orders of the Communist Party. They fear the new law would not just target criminals but political activists as well.
The extradition plan applies to 37 crimes. That excludes political ones, but critics fear the legislation would essentially legalize the sort of abductions to the mainland that have taken place in Hong Kong in recent years. The mainland Chinese authorities are typically not permitted to operate in the semiautonomous territory.
Reporting was contributed by Mike Ives, Tiffany May and Rick Gladstone.