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Hong Kong police fire tear gas and rubber bullets at protestors

Hong Kong police in riot gear fired rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons in skirmishes with protesters surrounding the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo) on Wednesday. The mass demonstrations succeeded in forcing LegCo to delay its second debate on a controversial extradition bill. The proposed law would put Hong Kong residents — and, per legal scholar Jerome Cohen, anyone passing through Hong Kong’s airports — within easy reach of China’s opaque police and legal system.

Whispers of ‘Umbrella Movement II’ as protesters gather in Central, Hong Kong

“All-out chaos” is how the South China Morning Post characterized Wednesday’s events. The protests are seen by many as a reawakening of the spirit of the Umbrella Movement and the Occupy Central protests of 2014. The SCMP says:

Students and youths were back with a vengeance, this time seemingly more organized and prepared for the showdown with face masks, goggles and makeshift body armor, their actions coordinated spontaneously on the ground and through encrypted messaging

Umbrellas were also back as protection from pepper spray and batons as protesters repeatedly charged police lines in scenes reminiscent of and even more intense than the Occupy protests of 2014, when demonstrators demanding greater democracy brought key parts of Hong Kong to a standstill for 79 straight days.

Sounding like a People’s Daily opinion piece, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥 Lín Zhèng Yuè’é) condemned the demonstrators in a TV appearance. Channel NewsAsia reports:

“The rioting actions that damage peaceful society, ignoring law and discipline is unacceptable for any civilised societies,” chief executive Carrie Lam said in a video statement, her first comments since the clashes erupted.

“It’s obvious that these are not peaceful rallies, but openly organized riots,” [公然有組織地發動暴動 gōng rán yǒu zǔzhī de fādòng bàodòng] she added. She noted the protests were “in no way an act of loving Hong Kong.”

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文 Cài Yīngwén) enjoyed pointing out the comparison with the way Taiwan has treated demonstrators in recent years, tweeting: “Utterly saddened to see the images of Hong Kong police firing rubber bullets at protesters. To the people of Hong Kong: you may feel your demands for freedom seem to fall on deaf ears, please know that all like-minded friends in Taiwan and around the world are standing with you.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

Alex Lo, a South China Morning Post columnist who invariably takes a pro-Beijing, pro-Hong Kong establishment point of view, argues that “the government has already made concession after concession on the contentious extradition bill but once again, as in 2014, protesters are demanding all or nothing.”

His conclusion is that “with no realistic demands made and no one from the opposition to negotiate with, the government will simply push on to get the bill passed before the month is out.”

He is probably right about the government passing the bill no matter how unpopular it is. Let’s hope there is not too much blood spilled before then.

SupChina’s Anthony Tao is in Hong Kong observing the ongoing protests in the city. Here are some of his photos:

Jeremy Goldkorn

Jeremy Goldkorn worked in China for 20 years as an editor and entrepreneur. He is editor-in-chief of SupChina, and co-founder of the Sinica Podcast.

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