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Hong Kong lawmakers grill security chief over protest violence

19 June 2019, MVT 16:34
Pro-democracy lawmaker Gary Fan (C) holds a placard as he and other pro-democracy lawmakers hold five minutes of silence in the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on June 19, 2019, for a man who fell to his death on June 15 during a protest against a controversial extradition bill. - Massive rallies over the past two weeks against a Beijing-backed proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China have drawn support from a wide political and social spectrum, from students and activists to social workers and the business community, and -- based on figures from organisers -- were the biggest in Hong Kong's history. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP)
19 June 2019, MVT 16:34

Members of Hong Kong's legislature met Wednesday for the first time since the largest anti-government protest in the city's history, with many opposition lawmakers slamming the pro-Beijing administration's handling of the crisis.

Hong Kong has been shaken by a series of massive demonstrations against a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, and the city's police force has been criticised for using excessive force to disperse protesters.

Videos of police beating unarmed protesters went viral and sparked public anger, and the tactics were widely condemned. Police said force was necessary to fend off protesters throwing bricks and metal bars.

In a tense session, opposition lawmakers grilled Hong Kong's head of security, John Lee, over the clashes.

Many pro-democracy members of the Legislative Council wore black and carried white chrysanthemums in tribute to a man who fell to his death while protesting the law.

Some placed placards on their desks reading "No China Extradition" and "Withdraw, Withdraw" -- referring to the controversial bill.

"We are sad that some people were hurt while expressing their views," Lee said, as he repeated the government's apology for the turmoil caused by the bill.

He said police were responding to threats from protesters, but opposition lawmakers ridiculed his comments.

"The police were well-trained, and you have all the gear and you say the police were under threat," pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said.

"This is utterly unconvincing."

An opposition lawmaker was due to introduce later Wednesday a non-binding motion of no-confidence in pro-Beijing chief executive Carrie Lam, but it was not expected to pass in the body, which is dominated by her camp.

Lam suspended the extradition bill after the first mass rally on June 9, and June 12 clashes between police and protesters.

But that failed to quell public anger and protesters staged an even larger rally on Sunday drew over two million people, according to organisers, who demanded the bill be withdrawn and Lam resign.

Lam apologised Tuesday and indicated the law is unlikely to be revived, but did not announce a formal withdrawal and vowed to continue as the city's leader.

Protesters say they will not relent until their demands are met, but have not yet announced plans for new demonstrations.

"This great chaos is something I don't want to see," Andrew Leung, president of the Legislative Council, said outside the chamber, urging the government not to table any divisive bills.

"Maybe we can put aside the political issues for now."

Opponents of the extradition proposal fear it will entangle Hong Kong people in China's notoriously opaque and politicised justice system, and threaten those critical of Beijing's policies.

The city's formidable business community was also spooked by the law, which they feared would damage Hong Kong's reputation as a safe business hub.

Hong Kong, China | AFP

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