Thousands of demonstrators poured into streets surrounding Hong Kong’s legislature Wednesday morning, choking major thoroughfares with barricades as the city braces for mass protests over a proposed extradition law that would, for the first time, allow fugitives to be sent to mainland China.
The fast-tracked legislation has ignited fears about the former British colony’s continued autonomy—promised after its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997—and also underscored the depth of anxiety over its relationship to Beijing.
Hundreds of young demonstrators staged an overnight protest Tuesday in the park abutting the Legislative Council, spreading tarps and sleeping bags over wet grass despite the bouts of rain.
In the morning, streams of fellow protesters clad in black joined them in a show of defiance against the extradition bill. The government has refused to withdraw the proposed legislation despite a massive march on Sunday through the heart of the financial hub.
Lawmakers are scheduled for a second debate of the bill this afternoon, but demonstrators are attempting to block access to the chambers, and have dragged barricades into key roads under the watch of the nearby columns of riot police.
Tensions escalated yesterday after the government announced the bill will go to vote by next week, all but guaranteeing its passage in a legislature dominated by pro-Beijing lawmakers.
A citywide strike is expected Wednesday after unions, teachers, businesses and others began circulating calls on social media for a June 12 boycott.
The latest attempts to paralyze Hong Kong through acts of civil disobedience recall the pro-democracy demonstrations that shook the city during 2014’s “Umbrella Movement.” That uprising began with calls to “occupy Central” and already Wednesday’s sit-in at the legislature is being dubbed “Occupy 2.0.”
Authorities have reiterated calls for protesters to express their demands peacefully, but demonstrators say they have been left no real recourse after an estimated 1.03 million people marched on Sunday but failed to sway the government.
The weekend procession was largely peaceful, but culminated in a clash between police and holdout protesters in the very early hours Monday.
Police have said they have “sufficient manpower” to deal with any threat Wednesday. Police vans flashing red and blue line the streets approaching the legislatures, while dozens of officers already stand guard with batons, shields and firearms.
“Over a million people came out to march. In other countries the government would pay attention to that. Not in Hong Kong. Is that because the Hong Kong demonstrators are too peaceful?” says Karen Chan, a 21-year-old student who joined the overnight protest. “The government is not afraid and not listening.”
—With reporting by Aria Hangyu Chen, Amy Gunia and Hillary Leung / Hong Kong