What began as opposition to a proposed law has taken on new life in Hong Kong.
The city became a hotbed of political crisis after the local government attempted to amend its extradition laws. It was largely criticized as a pro-Beijing move indicative of its growing influence over Hong Kong and that put the city’s independence at risk.
When protests broke out, Hong Kong bowed to the opposition — partially.
The government leader, Carrie Lam, eventually declared the bill “dead,” but that hasn’t been enough for protesters.
Since then, demonstrations involving millions of Hongkongers have morphed into calls for broader democratic reforms.
The government continues to stand despite the political turmoil and has warned protesters it won’t tolerate any challenge of its rule.
Why are people still protesting?
The protesters believe Lam’s declaration of the bill as dead isn’t enough. They fear the bill could resurface under this classification and want to see it formally withdrawn.
Their list of demands have also grown. It includes Lam’s resignation, a retraction of the “riot” label as it pertains to their demonstrations, an investigation into alleged police abuse during escalating protests, and the release of anyone arrested in connection with the protests.
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As of Aug. 9, Hong Kong police say 592 people have been arrested since June 9. They range in age from 13 to 76. Rioting is punishable by up to 10 years in prison in Hong Kong.
The demands were highlighted in July after 44 civilians were attacked in a commuter rail station by rod-wielding assailants, apparently targeting protesters.
Lam has shown no sign of conceding to their demands.
She said an investigation into police actions would not be appropriate while the city is still carrying out operations in response to the protests.
The protests are considered the greatest political threat to Hong Kong’s government since the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
What’s happening now?
Hong Kong, as an Asian financial hub and tourist destination, is taking a hit to its economy and international reputation.
The protests started in the city’s financial district but have recently moved to the Hong Kong International Airport, where hundreds of people have participated in sit-ins over four days.
The airport is seen to protesters as a refuge from alleged abuse by police in the streets and an opportunity to show visitors their pro-democracy movement.
On Monday, the airport halted flights, blaming demonstrators for the disruption. It’s unclear why the airport issued the closure, as reports suggest protesters occupying the arrival halls for several days have so far been peaceful. However, police said at a news conference that some protesters had moved to the departure area and caused disruptions.
Many had left the airport about midnight local time, Reuters reported, but some remained to plan the next moves.
VariFlight reported about 190 flights have been affected, though planes already en route to the city were allowed to land. Full operations are expected to resume on Tuesday morning, but some airlines have chosen to cancel flights there for the remainder of Tuesday.
The Hong Kong government said it is working to minimize disruptions, but other countries are taking notice of the commotion.
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More than 20 countries and regions have issued travel advisories for citizens about safety concerns in Hong Kong.
Canada joined the group last week, which includes the United States, Ireland, Britain and Japan.
According to Hong Kong’s government, tourist arrivals dropped 26 per cent at the end of July compared to a year earlier. They are reportedly continuing to fall in August.
The travel industry in Hong Kong accounts for 4.5 per cent of the financial hub’s economy and employs about 250,000 people or about seven per cent of the total working population, according to the Associated Press.
The ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China is only exacerbating things.
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Lam has described the downward economic pressure hitting the city as a “tsunami” and claimed the relentless protests are “hurting the economy more than the SARS” epidemic.
She conceded that traffic disruptions between police and protesters have also hurt the economy, particularly the retail and food and beverage sectors.
Lam said Friday that she is focused on stopping “violence” rather than making political concessions.
Unless the demands of the protesters are met, their action is likely to continue.
Police, protests and violence
From students and teachers to lawyers dressed in black to senior citizens, millions of people have rallied in Hong Kong’s streets since the demonstrations ramped up in June.
There have been major climaxes — police firing rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters on June 12 and protesters storming the legislative building on July 1 — but despite Lam’s move to kill the bill, there have been no gaps in backlash.
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In recent weeks, the protests have become increasingly violent.
Police clashes with protesters have intensified, with tear gas rounds fired and fires being set in the streets.
A vicious attack on pro-democracy protesters at a subway station, allegedly by men with links to triad gangs, has only fuelled tensions with police.
Though six men have been arrested, protesters have criticized officers for failing to protect them from the attack.
Over the weekend, the violent clashes continued, with scores of protesters arrested. They were beaten with batons and bloodied by police, according to Reuters, some of whom reportedly went undercover as protesters and fired tear gas in subway stations.
In one case, a young female was hospitalized after being hit in the eye with a pellet round.
Protests have also become more disruptive.
Along with causing dozens of flight cancellations, the escalating situation has suspended subway service and snarled morning rush hour traffic.
The extradition bill
The crux of the conflict started in March with the prospect of changing extradition laws.
The proposed bill would send criminal suspects to trial in mainland China, where human rights violations are common.
Supporters claimed the bill would foster public safety, whereas critics saw it as a blow to the rule of law in the former British colony. They say their “one country, two systems” arrangement, which came into effect in 1997, is being eroded.
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When Lam introduced the amendments in April, they quickly drew criticism among some citizens and online.
The U.S. weighed in on the proposal in May, warning that it could put international security and economic interests at risk.
Despite this, Lam pushed forward with the bill.
Demands the bill be scrapped were at first peaceful. In early June, large-scale organized protests began to take shape.
China hasn’t been silent and has repeatedly condemned the violence.
Beijing has defended both the police and the city government against the “very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them.”
WATCH: ‘Anti-riot’ video by China’s People’s Liberation Army
Chinese officials have blamed foreign interference for the swelling clashes, saying “irresponsible people” in the West have applied “strange logic” that has prompted sympathy and tolerance to “violent crimes.”
Recently, China’s People’s Liberation Army in Hong Kong released an “anti-riot” video with scenes of officers firing guns and rockets.
China has reminded Hong Kong throughout the upheaval that it can request the assistance of the garrison if necessary.
In response to the weekend events at the airport, China upped the ante, saying that the protests over the past two months had begun to show “sprouts of terrorism.”
Experts suggest using the word terrorism to describe the protesters’ actions could lead to the leverage of more powers against the pro-democracy movement, including Hong Kong’s extensive anti-terror laws.
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters
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