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Protesters In Hong Kong March Against Extradition Bill

Hundreds of thousands of people have marched in Hong Kong against a law critics fear could let China target political opponents in the territory.

The controversial extradition bill would allow suspected criminals to be sent to mainland China for trial.

The government says the bill has built-in protections and will plug loopholes.

Organisers say there were one million protesters, which would make it the biggest march since the 1997 handover. Police say 240,000 were at their peak.

After the mainly peaceful march ended, hundreds of protesters – some in surgical masks – clashed with police in riot gear as they tried to break into the Legislative Council complex, throwing crowd control barriers around. Some of the protesters and policemen were later seen with faces covered in blood.

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam has pushed for the amendments to be passed before July. Supporters say safeguards are in place to prevent anyone facing religious or political persecution from being extradited to mainland China.

But critics say those in the former British colony would be exposed to China’s deeply flawed justice system, and it would lead to further erosion of the city’s judicial independence.

Protesters, marching in the sweltering heat dressed in white, included a wide range of people – from businesspeople and lawyers to students, pro-democracy figures and religious groups.

The figures given by organisers and police vary because of the different methods they use to calculate the crowds – while organisers estimate overall numbers police look at how many people were gathered at one peak.

“This is the end game for Hong Kong, it is a matter of life or death. That’s why I come,” Rocky Chang, a 59-year-old professor, told Reuters news agency. “This is an evil law.”

“The people’s voices are not being heard. This bill will not just affect Hong Kong’s reputation as an international finance centre, but also our judicial system. That has an impact on my future,” 18-year-old student Ivan Wong said.

Reacting to the protest, a government spokesman said in a statement the proposals were “firmly grounded in the rule of law” and that the second reading of the bill at the Legislative Council would resume on Wednesday. This march ended up as the biggest in Hong Kong, not just since the Umbrella Movement in 2014, but since the city’s handover to Beijing in 1997. The city’s pro-democracy movement has been hard hit since Umbrella because protesters failed to gain any concessions after occupying the heart of the city for 79 days.

The numbers on the latest march will certainly boost the morale of the pro-democracy groups, but many protesters are not optimistic that the government will back down now. After all, the pro-Beijing parties enjoy a majority in the legislature.

But the clashes afterwards show some still don’t trust mainstream politics.

Just as the main protest wraps up, the government insists it will resume the bill’s second reading. Will the clashes change the government’s mind? Backing down? Getting tough? We’ll see. BBC

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