13 Jun 2019

Uneasy calm in Hong Kong after days of protests, violence

3:25 pm on 13 June 2019

Government offices have been ordered shut in Hong Kong's financial district for the rest of the week after violence over an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.

Riot police fire tear gas towards protesters outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Wednesday, June 12, 2019.

Riot police fire tear gas at protesters outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Photo: AP Photo/Vincent Yu

Early on Thursday just a handful of protesters remained milling about as a widespread clean-up near the city's legislative precinct took place.

Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray in a series of skirmishes on Wednesday to clear demonstrators from the area.

It was some of the worst violence in Hong Kong since Britain handed it back to Chinese rule in 1997.

The Hong Kong Hospital Authority said 72 people had been hospitalised by 10pm on Wednesday.

The extradition bill, which will cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or travelling through the city, has sparked concerns it may threaten the rule of law that underpins Hong Kong's international financial status.

Wednesday night was the third night of violence since a protest on Sunday drew what organisers said was more than a million people in the biggest street demonstration since the 1997 handover.

Overnight several thousand demonstrators remained near the legislative council in the Admiralty district, while thousands more retreated to the Central business district.

Most roads around the CBD were opening for traffic on Thursday, but Pacific Place mall next to the complex remained closed.

Hong Kong's China-backed chief executive Carrie Lam condemned the violence late on Wednesday and urged a swift restoration of order.

While acknowledging the controversy, Ms Lam has refused to postpone or withdraw the bill, which she and her officials say is necessary to plug "loopholes" allowing the city to be a haven for criminals wanted on the mainland.

Ms Lam has said the courts would provide human rights safeguards in vetting case-by-case extraditions to mainland China.

Opponents, including leading lawyers and rights groups, say China's justice system is marked by torture and forced confessions, arbitrary detention and poor access to lawyers.

Chinese state media said in editorials published on Thursday that the protests were "hammering" Hong Kong's reputation.

"It is lawlessness that will hurt Hong Kong, not the proposed amendments to its fugitive law," the English-language China Daily said.

Face masks, goggles, helmets and water bottles strewn around the legislature area were being cleaned up on Thursday.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index closed 1.7 percent lower on Wednesday, having lost as much as 2 percent in the afternoon, while Chinese companies in Hong Kong ended down 1.2 percent.

- Reuters