Hundreds of thousands of protesters choked Hong Kong’s streets yesterday in a defiant rebuke of a reviled extradition law, piling pressure on the city’s embattled pro-Beijing leader despite a weekend climbdown.
The show of force saw huge crowds marching for hours in tropical heat, calling for the resignation of chief executive Carrie Lam, who paused work on the divisive bill Saturday saying she had misjudged the public mood.
Lam yesterday apologised for the way her administration tried to pass the extradition law.
“The chief executive admitted that shortcomings in the government’s work has lead to a lot of conflict and disputes in Hong Kong society and has disappointed and distressed many citizens,” a statement from her office said.
“The chief executive apologises to the citizens and promises to accept criticism with the most sincere and humble attitude,” it added.
Throngs of black-clad protesters snaked their way for miles through the city’s streets to the city’s parliament -- a repeat of a record-breaking demonstration last Sunday that organisers said more than a million people attended.
As night fell the huge crowds were still marching, but they had also taken over multiple major thoroughfares, with the police seemingly ceding the streets to the jubilant masses.
Critics fear the Beijing-backed law will entangle people in China’s notoriously opaque and politicised courts and damage the city’s reputation as a safe business hub.
Although Lam offered a rare concession on Saturday, she stopped short of committing to permanently scrapping the unpopular law.
Her gesture was swiftly rejected by protest leaders who called on her to resign, shelve the bill entirely and apologise for police using tear gas and rubber bullets earlier in the week.
Many placards in the crowd yesterday accused police of using excessive force. “You’re supposed to protect us not shoot at us,” read one banner.
Nearly 80 people were injured in this week’s unrest, including 22 police officers. One man died late Saturday when he fell from a building where he had been holding an hours-long anti-extradition protest.
The extradition furore is just the latest chapter in what many see as a battle for the soul of Hong Kong.