Violence rocks Hong Kong protests while China, U.S. clash over extradition bill

Police in Hong Kong clashed with throngs of protesters outside government buildings Wednesday as opposition intensified to a proposed extradition bill that would tighten Beijing’s control over the semi-autonomous territory.

The legislation, if approved, would allow Hong Kong to extradite suspected criminals to jurisdictions outside the former British colony without a prior agreement – most notably mainland China.

Police in riot gear used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up the crowds, which quickly returned when the crackdowns eased. Some threw objects at advancing officers. Amid the chaos, government officials delayed the opening of debate on the bill, which has drawn massive protests from students and other pro-democracy advocates in the economically free-wheeling city of more than 7 million people.

Lawmaker Charles Mok visited the protest Wednesday, defending the crowd as “well-meaning citizens” exercising freedom of expression.

“I am worried that they (police) might just use force to remove these people and arrest them all,” Mok said. “This is not Hong Kong.”

Man-Kei Tam, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, accused police of using the angry actions of a small number of protesters as a pretext to use excessive force against the masses.

“The excessive response from police is fuelling tensions and is likely to contribute to worsening violence, rather than end it,” the director said. “The ugly scenes of police using tear gas and pepper spray against overwhelmingly peaceful protesters is a violation of international law.”

The U.S. State Department this week expressed “grave concern” over the extradition proposal, saying it could threaten Hong Kong’s “special status” with the mainland. That brought a sharp response from Beijing on Wednesday, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang saying no country has a right to interfere in its internal affairs.

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