Tens of thousands of protesters swarm Hong Kong

Tens of thousands of protesters block the streets in Hong Kong.
Roads have been blocked in the mass demonstration. Photo credit: Reuters

Chaos has erupted in Hong Kong with tens of thousands of demonstrators storming key roads next to government offices to protest a proposed extradition bill allowing people to be sent to mainland China for trial.

Thousands of protesters rallied in and around Lung Wo Road, an important east-west artery near the offices of embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam, as hundreds of riot police warned them to stop.

Some erected barricades to block traffic in the heart of the Asian financial centre, with many defying police calls to retreat, in scenes reminiscent of pro-democracy protests that rocked the city in late 2014.

The government advised staff to avoid driving to work because roads were blocked.

Lam has vowed to press ahead with the controversial legislation despite deep concern across the Asian financial hub that triggered on Sunday its biggest political demonstration since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Demonstrators from a wide spectrum of Hong Kong society began joining the overnight protesters earlier on Wednesday as businesses across the city prepared to go on strike.

The bill, which has generated broad opposition, is due for a second round of debate on Wednesday in Hong Kong's 70-seat Legislative Council, although it was not immediately clear if that would go ahead.

The legislature is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.

Lam has sought to soothe public concerns and said her administration was creating additional amendments to the bill, including safeguarding human rights.

In a rare move, prominent business leaders warned that pushing through the extradition law could undermine investor confidence in Hong Kong and erode its competitive advantages.

Sunday's protest, which organisers said saw more than a million people take to the streets, in addition to a snowballing backlash against the extradition bill could raise questions about Lam's ability to govern.

That protest rally plunged Hong Kong into political crisis, just as months of pro-democracy 'Occupy' demonstrations did in 2014, heaping pressure on Lam's administration and her official backers in Beijing.

A spokesman for bourse operator Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing said a cocktail reception on Wednesday evening to celebrate 19 years of being listed, at which Lam is guest of honour, would go ahead.

The protesters, mostly young people, wore makeshift protective gear such as masks and goggles as they dragged steel barriers on to roads, wreaking commuter havoc in the morning rush hour.

The demonstrators rallied just a stone's throw from the heart of the financial centre where glittering skyscrapers house the offices of some of the world's biggest companies.

Strikes and transport go-slows were also announced as businesses, students, bus drivers, social workers, teachers and other groups all vowed to protest in a last-ditch effort to block the bill.

Reuters

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