HONG KONG (AP) — Protesters opposed to legislation they fear would reduce Hong Kong’s judicial independence rallied outside the Justice Department on Thursday, as the territory’s leader remained out of public view for a second week.
A few hundred people staged a sit-in on the street in front of the Justice Department, demanding that Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah withdraw the now-suspended bills and drop charges against protesters arrested after a June 12 demonstration that turned violent.
The action was the latest in a series of protests this month targeting police headquarters and government offices.
“Withdraw the evil bill, release the protesters, there were no riots, only a tyrannical government,” protest leader Joshua Wong told the crowd.
Police briefly attempted to push the crowd back onto the sidewalk, but eventually relented and permitted them to occupy the road. Some protesters took it upon themselves to direct traffic around the gathering.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam hasn’t been seen in public since issuing a televised apology nearly two weeks ago for mishandling the extradition legislation. Lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki of the opposition Civic Party suggested she request a long-term leave of absence.
“To refuse to appear, to refuse to acknowledge a request and to refuse to make a decision is entirely irresponsible,” Kwok was quoted as saying by Radio Television Hong Kong.
“It will only hurt Hong Kong more,” he said of Lam’s absence.
Lam’s push to pass the extradition bills prompted hundreds of thousands of people to fill Hong Kong’s streets in protest marches earlier this month.
The proposed changes would have allowed suspects to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China for trial. Many fear the proposals would erode Hong Kong’s judicial independence and the civil liberties the city was guaranteed after its handover from British rule in 1997.
Several thousand people joined a rally Wednesday night that capped a daylong appeal to world leaders to take up the issue at this week’s G-20 summit, which brings together the heads of China, the United States and others.
Beijing has strongly opposed any discussion of the issue at the summit, which starts Friday in Japan, saying Hong Kong matters are an internal Chinese affair.
Lam’s government has suspended debate on the legislation indefinitely, making it unlikely to pass during her term, but protesters are demanding it be officially withdrawn.
They also are seeking an independent inquiry into the police response to a June 12 demonstration, when officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowd, and dozens were injured on both sides.
Following Wednesday night’s rally, a large group of protesters besieged police headquarters for the second time in less than a week. They spray-painted slogans on the walls, threw eggs at the building and shouted insults at the police until well after midnight.
Police waited them out before clearing out a few dozen remaining protesters about 3 a.m.
Associated Press video journalists Raf Wober and Alice Fung contributed to this report.