Need to intensify Hong Kong peace efforts - GulfToday

Need to intensify Hong Kong peace efforts

The photo has been used for illustrative purposes. File/ AFP

With no end in sight to protests, Hong Kong is passing through a rough phase.

Millions have taken to the streets over the past month in some of the largest and most violent protests in decades over an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.

This Sunday too did not turn out to be different. Tens of thousands rallied in a large Hong Kong suburb and police equipped with riot gear clashed with some protesters who used metal barriers and other objects to block off roads.

The fact that the demonstrators marched in sweltering heat of about 32 degrees Celsius in Sha Tin, a town between Hong Kong island and the border with China, highlights the extent of anger among the residents over the bill.

Also, the extension of the protests outwards from the heart of the financial centre into surrounding neighbourhoods is an indication that resentment is spreading across a wider area.

Continuing turbulence is certainly not good for Hong Kong.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees its people freedoms for 50 years that are not enjoyed in mainland China, including the liberty to protest and an independent judiciary.

Beijing vehemently denies interfering in Hong Kong affairs, but many residents worry about what they see as an erosion of freedoms and a relentless march towards mainland control.

Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, has repeatedly stated that the extradition bill is “dead”, but opponents are clearly not convinced.

They are not ready to settle for anything short of its formal withdrawal.

The protesters have a list of demands. They want Lam to step down, the withdrawal of the word “riot” to describe demonstrations, the unconditional release of those arrested and an independent investigation into complaints of police brutality.

The situation, in fact, took a turn for the worse last week when anti-government protesters began circulating plans to “stress test” the Bank of China in their bid to keep pressure on the city’s pro-Beijing leaders.

The waving of banners by some protesters appealing to US President Donald Trump to “Please liberate Hong Kong” and “Defend our Constitution,” is sure to infuriate Beijing, which has already been angered by criticism from Washington and London over the controversial bill.

Under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution China’s national laws do not apply to the city apart from limited areas, like defence.

The disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians, the de facto expulsion of a foreign journalist and the jailing of democracy protest leaders are among several issues that have sparked anxiety.

The reality is that the people have not accepted Carrie Lam’s argument that the extradition law was necessary to prevent criminals hiding in Hong Kong and that human rights would be protected by the city’s courts which would decide on any extradition on a case-by-case basis.

Basically, mass protests over the bill since June have morphed into demonstrations over democracy and broader grievances in society.

A night of fresh violence in the international hub on Sunday when police used pepper spray and batons against small groups of protesters, who responded by hurling bottles and other projectiles, should be seen as a wake-up call for action to end continuing unrest.

What is essential is a peaceful solution to all pending issues through sincere dialogue between all stakeholders.

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