Riot police follow protesters over a median barrier near the Central Government Offices during a protest against a proposed extradition law in Hong Kong Image Credit: Bloomberg


Security remains tight in Hong Kong Thousands of protesters ready for escalation 

Govt offices to close rest of week Some bank services suspended

No debate set for Hong Kong bill after protests

Hong Kong - Scuffles broke out between demonstrators and police in Hong Kong on Thursday as hundreds of people persevered with a protest against an extradition law with mainland China, a day after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up big crowds.

The number of protesters milling about outside the legislature in the financial district fell overnight but rose again through the day on Thursday to about 1,000 at one stage.

Hong Kong authorities arrested 11 people during protests against an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to China for trial, police chief Stephen Lo said on Thursday.

Lo, speaking at a press briefing, said 22 police officers were injured in the protests that turned violent on Wednesday as police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray.

They expect the legislature, which has a majority of pro-Beijing members, will try to hold the debate at some stage, though it issued a notice saying there would be no session on Thursday.

"We will be back when, and if, it comes back for discussion again," said protester Stephen Chan, a 20-year old university student.

"We just want to preserve our energy now." Earlier, some protesters tried to stop police from removing supplies of face masks and food and scuffles broke out.

Police with helmets and shields blocked overhead walkways and plainclothes officers checked commuters' identity cards.

Some protesters around Hong Kong's legislature, the epicentre of the violence, rushed to stop police from removing supplies of face masks and food. School children joined the steadily growing crowd, which grew from around 20 protesters early on Thursday to a few thousand by midday.

Uniformed police with helmets and shields blocked overhead walkways, while a long row of police vans were parked nearby.

Plain clothes police officers checked identification of commuters.

Hong Kong authorities have shut government offices in the city's financial district for the rest of the week after some of the worst violence in Hong Kong since Britain handed it back to Chinese rule in 1997.

Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray in a series of skirmishes on Wednesday to clear demonstrators from the city's legislature. The Hong Kong Hospital Authority said 72 people had been hospitalised by 10 p.m. 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 legislature in the Admiralty district, while thousands more retreated to the Central business district, overlooked by the towers of some of Asia's biggest firms and hotel chains, including HSBC and AIA.

A protesters throws a tear gas canister back at riot police, not pictured, outside the Legislative Council during a protest against a proposed extradition law in Hong Kong

Hong Kong's benchmark stock exchange slid 1.5 percent down in early trade on Thursday, extending losses from Wednesday afternoon as tensions escalated.

Ken Lam, a protestor in his 20s who works in the city's food and beverage industry, said he would remain on strike until the bill was scrapped.

"I don't know what the plan for protesters is today, we will just go with the flow, but we think the turnout will be smaller than yesterday and it will be peaceful, after what happened yesterday," he said.

Most roads around the central business district were opening for traffic on Thursday, but Pacific Place, a prime shopping mall next to the legislature, remained closed. Banks including Standard Chartered, Bank of China and DBS said they had suspended branch services in the area until further notice.

Banks based in the Central district - the financial heart of the city - emphasised it was 'business as usual' but many offered staff, where possible, the option of working from home.

As a precaution, we shut two outlets early where the protests were taking place. Our priorities are the safety of our employees and supporting our customers" said HSBC, whose ground-level public space at its headquarters has previously been a focal point for protests.

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

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.

Democratic lawmakers in an improptu media standup in the legislature on Thursday strongly criticised Lam's heavy handed police response.

"We are not a haven for criminals, but we have become a haven of violent police. Firing at our children? None of the former chief executives dared to do that," said legislator Fernando Cheung.

"But 'mother Carrie Lam' did it. What kind of mother is she, I have never seen such a evil hearted mother." The legislature remained closed with the council issuing a notice that the group's meeting would not be held on Thursday.

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," said the English-language China Daily.

Concerns over more unrest

Face masks, goggles, helmets and water bottles strewn around the legislature area were being cleaned up on Thursday, while a police team stood nearby looking relaxed.

Traffic was beginning to build up on the roads surrounding the legislature while the adjacent Admiralty metro station remained shut. Other stations were packed with commuters while others were being diverted and faced sprawling bus queues.

But concerns over the unrest saw Hong Kong's Tourism Board call off its Dragon Boat Carnival this weekend and Index provider MSCI cancel a Thursday conference at the Shangri-La hotel near the epicentre of Wednesday's skirmishes.

Amnesty International joined local rights groups in condemning the use of police force on Wednesday as excessive, while a spokeswoman for the U.N. Human Rights Office in Geneva said it was following the situation closely.

"We call on all parties to express their views peacefully and on Hong Kong's authorities to engage in an inclusive and transparent dialogue over the draft legislation," the spokeswoman said.

Diplomatic pressure was also building after leaders including British Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump commented on the protests.

The European Union said in a statement that it shared many of the concerns raised by citizens of Hong Kong regarding the proposed extradition reforms and called for an in depth inclusive public consultation to move forward.

"This is a sensitive issue, with potentially far-reaching consequences for Hong Kong and its people, for EU and foreign citizens, as well as for business confidence in Hong Kong.

A Hong Kong Legislative Council official says no time has been set aside for debate on a highly controversial extradition law that has drawn large-scale protests

11:45 a.m.

A Hong Kong Legislative Council official says no time has been set aside for debate on a highly controversial extradition law that has drawn large-scale protests.

The announcement Thursday from council official Cicely Wong appeared to show the impact of Wednesday's street demonstrations, along with statements of concern from foreign governments, business associations and the legal profession. Those voices have joined with human rights and supporters of the free press who have long warned of growing restrictions on civil rights in the former British colony that returned to Chines rule in 2019.

Traffic was restored in the city the day after the clashes between police and protesters who oppose the legislation that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China where they could face unfair trials on political charges.

11 a.m.

After days of silence, Chinese state media is characterizing the largely peaceful demonstrations in Hong Kong as a "riot" and accusing protesters of "violent acts."

Hundreds of thousands of people filled streets in Hong Kong in recent days to oppose proposed legislation that would allow crime suspects to be extradited to mainland China, where critics say they would be subject to vague charges and unfair trials.

In an editorial featuring a photo of a bloodied officer, the state-run China Daily said Wednesday evening that protesters are using the bill "to tarnish the image of the government."

Xinhua state news agency said protesters used "sharpened iron poles" and bricks against police.

Police officers fired tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets at demonstrators Wednesday. About 70 people were hurt.

10 a.m.

Traffic has been restored in the heart of Hong Kong a day after clashes between police and protesters who oppose legislation that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.

Heavy rain Thursday morning kept fresh protests from following those Wednesday by thousands of activists who shut down government headquarters and the Legislative Council on the day it was to debate the extradition bill. More than 70 people were hurt.

Police fired tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets after well-organized protesters breached their cordon, forcing the assembly to postpone the debate.

Protesters said they were seeking to block the passage of the legislation they see as part of Beijing's moves to tighten its grip over the former British colony.

Worried stock traders

Hong Kong stock traders have a lot to contend with right now. A trade war between China and the U.S., a slumping yuan, spiking interbank rates and now street protests that spilled across the city's financial district in a repeat of 2014's Occupy movement.

The last two - rates and protests - have combined to snuff out a nascent recovery in the benchmark Hang Seng Index after last month's 9.4% drubbing. The gauge tumbled as much as 2% on Wednesday after the one-month interbank borrowing cost surged to a decade-high and protesters demanded the city's government drop a planned bill that would allow extradition to mainland China.

The index fell below the 27,000 level briefly on Thursday. It trimmed the decline to 0.9% from as much as 1.8% after the government postponed for a second day a meeting to discuss the bill and the one-month interbank borrowing cost extended its advance.

There is little visibility right now on how these issues may be resolved. Few expect progress on trade negotiations before the Group of 20 meeting at the end of the month, while analysts increasingly think China will allow the yuan to weaken past a level it's not breached since the global financial crisis. That's bad news for Chinese companies listed in Hong Kong, whose earnings are generated in yuan.

'The market worries that the social unrest in Hong Kong may lead to an outflow of funds,' said Alvin Cheung, an associate director at Prudential Brokerage Ltd. 'There's a good chance the Hang Seng Index will continue to decline. The progress of the extradition bill and the meeting between Trump and Xi at the G-20 will be the two key factors influencing the market trend.'

Surging Hong Kong interbank rates, which are likely rising due to quarter-end demand for cash, may stay elevated until next month. That will weigh on the city's equities as well as the dominant property developers.

The outcome, and impact, of the protests are harder to predict. As of Thursday morning, things had calmed down after police used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear streets. But with little sign that either side will back down on the extradition bill, more protests are likely.

In 2003 and 2012, demonstrators succeeded in forcing the local government to climb down on unpopular bills related to national security and patriotic education. Massive protests in 2014 aimed at achieving greater democracy for the former British colony fizzled out in failure after more than 70 days of sit-ins. Those protests, which caused widespread traffic disruption, helped damp stock market sentiment - the Hang Seng Index fell about 2% during the period.

The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index of Chinese stocks listed in the city also pared a drop, trading down 0.7% at the midday break after retreating as much as 1.7% in the morning.