Anthony Wallace / AFP – Getty Images / UpdatedBy Justin Solomon and Alex Johnson
HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s legislature put off a debate on a bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China after thousands of demonstrators dressed in black swarmed the area surrounding the central government complex on Wednesday morning.
As demonstrators equipped with police barriers, street signs and trash barrels blocked off Harcourt Road, a major street in the government district, the government said late Wednesday morning that the session would be “changed to a later time to be determined” by the head of the Legislative Council, which is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.
Protesters had mixed reactions to news of the postponement, but remained steadfast to their cause ― standing under umbrellas and continuing to block potential traffic.
JUNE 12, 201901:12
“I would describe it as a small victory,” said Ramon Yuen, a member of a local district council representing the Democratic Party.
“There are many possibilities … but we want the government to withdraw the amendment,” Yuen said. “No decision has been made to do that, and we do not see any good gestures that they will listen to Hong Kong people’s voices.”Cyrus Lee, 28, who was taking part in the demonstrations, echoed Yuen’s sentiment, telling NBC News he “can’t tell if it is a good sign or not because you don’t know what they will do next.”
Closely watched by police in riot gear, many of the protesters, who carried medical masks and goggles expecting police to use tear gas, said they were taking part in a territory-general strike. The strike has been endorsed by more than 1,000 small businesses and the 190,000-member Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, which called on “all workers to suspend work and join the assembly.”
Michael Vidler, a human rights lawyer based in Hong Kong, said he told his employees that the firm would back them if they chose to join the strike.
Vidler told NBC News that “people are terrified, in my view rightly so,” that the legislation would remove the “fire wall” between Hong Kong and China.
The broadly disliked measure would amend extradition laws to allow Hong Kong to send people to mainland China to face charges.
The new protests come three days after as many as 1 million people took to the streets in what was described as the largest demonstration in the semi-autonomous territory since China assumed control from Britain in 1997.
At one point on Wednesday, dozens of protesters opened colorful umbrellas in what appeared to be a call back to the so-called Umbrella Revolution protests of 2014, when changes in Hong Kong’s electoral laws were rammed through that were seen as highly favorable to Beijing.
Under the principle of “one country, two systems,” Hong Kong is to retain its own economic and administrative system free of interference from Beijing until 2047, but critics say the legislation would represent another step on the road to Beijing’s seizing premature control over the former colony.