HONG KONG (AP)– Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through Hong Kong on Sunday to voice their opposition to legislation that would allow people to be extradited to mainland China where they could face politically charged trials.
The massive demonstration took place three days before the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s government plans to bring the highly contentious bill to the full legislature in a bid to win approval by the end of the month.
Police estimated the crowd at 240,000, but organizers said more than 1 million took part.
The protest was one of the largest in recent Hong Kong history, underscoring fears over China’s broadening footprint in the former British colony. It appeared to be even bigger than a massive pro-democracy demonstration in 2003 against a proposed national security law, according to Associated Press journalists who covered both events.
Late Sunday night, a group of demonstrators broke through barriers at government headquarters, where the march had ended. The crowd briefly pushed its way into the lobby, but police used batons and pepper spray, and the protesters were moved outside. Most had dispersed by 1 a.m.
People of all ages took part in the march, some pushing strollers and others carrying canes, chanting slogans in the native Cantonese dialect in favour of greater transparency in government.
Kiwi Wong, 27, was among the throng, a member of the younger generation who’ve grown up enjoying relative prosperity but also growing insecurity about what many see as an erosion of the rights Hong Kong residents have enjoyed.
“If I didn’t come out now, I don’t know when I would have the chance to express my opinion again,” Wong said. “Because now we’ve got to this stage, if you don’t come out to try to do what you can, then it will end up too late, you won’t be able to say or do anything about it.”