The crowd protest before and after police releases tear gas. (Image by Lewis Tse Pui Lung / Shutterstock.com)

Hong Kong central govt offices close for a day in preparation for workers’ strike, following massive rally on Sunday

Hong Kong’s central government offices will be closed today (17 Jun) as the city prepares itself for workers going on strike, following Sunday’s massive rally against the controversial extradition Bill.

An official notice was issued regarding the closure, which read: “As the access roads in the vicinity of the Central Government Offices (CGO) are blocked, CGO will still be temporarily closed today.”

“Staff working in the CGO should not go to the workplace and should work in accordance with the contingency plans of their respective bureaus or departments. All visits to the CGO will be postponed or cancelled,” the release added.

Major access roads to Hong Kong’s legislature and government headquarters in Admiralty were blocked by protestors this morning, which resulted in the disruption of bus services across the city.

Around 10 bus routes out of 70 were suspended, while the rest were rerouted.

AFP reported that traffic on a major highway in Hong Kong has resumed following the end of anti-establishment protestors’s demonstration along the road this morning (17 Jun). The demonstrators were dispersed to a nearby park without much fanfare.

Civil rights groups such as the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) have urged Hong Kongers to go on strike as a means of pressuring the city’s government to scrap the Bill entirely instead of holding off its tabling as seen last Sat (15 Jun), as such groups and many other dissidents remain apprehensive about the possible reintroduction of the controversial piece of legislation after current tensions have simmered.

CHRF, which organised the protest on Sat, said in a statement the following evening (16 Jun): “Should the government refuse to respond, only more Hong Kongers will strike tomorrow; citizens will take to the street, until their voices are heard.”

The human rights organisation estimated that around two million people turned up at the rally on Sun, while police gave an approximate figure of 338,000 people, according to AFP.

Besides the permanent withdrawal of the Bill, CHRF is also pushing for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s resignation, which was also called upon by throngs of protestors who wore black last weekend.

Mrs Lam, in the wake of the protests, issued an apology, vowing “to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public”. However, she did not indicate any possibility that the government will consider scrapping the extradition bill altogether.

In announcing the suspension of any debate on the extradition Bill, she told the media on Sat (15 Jun): “After repeated internal deliberations over the last two days, I now announce that the government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise, restart our communication with all sectors of society, do more explanation work and listen to different views of society.”

Lam had also defended the firing of tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds against protestors by police during last Wed’s demonstrations, stating that the police’s actions were “reasonable and natural”.

Last Thu (13 Jun), Hong Kong’s legislature postponed a reading of the controversial extradition bill for the third time in the wake of clashes between the police and the tens of thousands of protesters in Admiralty a day before.

South China Morning Post reported that a circular has been issued by the secretariat on behalf of president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, which stated that “Members will be notified of the time of the meeting once it is determined by the president”.

Legco’s rule book stipulates that the president of the legislature is required to notify lawmakers prior to convening a meeting. However, it is not stated how much time should be given before the meeting is convened, according to SCMP.

Concerns were raised over the scope of powers that will be granted upon certain jurisdictions Hong Kong decides to extradite crime suspects to – particularly mainland China – should the amendment bill be passed, as certain factions remain sceptical of Beijing’s capacity to refrain from abusing the extradition arrangements.

Amnesty International warns that the proposed legislation “would extend the ability of the mainland authorities to target critics, human rights activists, journalists, NGO workers and anyone else in Hong Kong”.

Raymond Chan Chi-chuen of the pro-democracy party People Power told SCMP that while a delay may be helpful in the short term, “it will not work, as long as they don’t retract the bill”.

“People are ready for further action,” said Chan.

Last week’s clash between protestors and the police on Wed resulted in the hospitalisation of over 70 people and had forced certain retail outlets and banks including HSBC to close their branches temporarily, Reuters reported.

Protests on Wed (12 Jun) witnessed police firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and rounds of beanbags at protesters outside Hong Kong’s legislature.

Police chief Stephen Lo Wai-ching told SCMP that the officers on the ground responded to the “riot” when the protesters stormed police lines.

The situation on the third day of the protest was reminiscent of the 79-day Occupy protest in 2014, which was the last time tear gas was used in Hong Kong on protesters.