Hong Kong leader defiant after massive protest

Hong Kong leader defiant after massive protest
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Media captionCritics say the plan would erode the city's judicial independence

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said she will not scrap a controversial plan to allow extradition to China, despite mass protests.

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people rallied against the bill which critics fear allows China to target political opponents in the city.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, she insisted the law was necessary and said human rights safeguards were in place.

Chinese state media said "foreign forces" were behind the protests.

Organisers estimate that one million people took part in Sunday's march, however police put the figure at 240,000 at its peak.

If the organisers' estimate is confirmed as correct, it would be the largest demonstration in Hong Kong since the territory was handed over to China by the British in 1997.

Human rights safeguards

On Monday, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in a press conference the law would in no way erode any of the special freedoms the territory enjoys.

"The bill wasn't initiated by Beijing," Ms Lam said, explaining the law was proposed out of "conscience" and "commitment to Hong Kong".

She also promised legally binding human rights safeguards, and regular reports of implementation of cases to the legislature.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Despite the protests, Ms Lam refused to scrap the bill

The government plans to go ahead with the second reading of the extradition bill on Wednesday.

Critics of the bill say it would expose Hong Kong residents to China's deeply flawed justice system, and it would lead to further erosion of the city's judicial independence.

Supporters say safeguards are in place to prevent anyone facing religious or political persecution from being extradited to mainland China.

The march was seen as a major rebuke of Ms Lam, who has pushed for the amendments to be passed before July.

'Protesters find it hard to change minds'

By Grace Tsoi, BBC News, Hong Kong

Whichever number you believe, this was a huge protest by Hong Kong's standards and this controversial bill has prompted opposition from the most unexpected corners of society.

Two years ago, Carrie Lam ran on a manifesto of "We Connect", vowing to unite a deeply split society after the 79-day Umbrella Movement in 2014.

Ms Lam was never the most popular candidate running to be Hong Kong's leader - and she won largely because of Beijing's blessing.

She has always been considered a capable, experienced bureaucrat who is deft at tackling thorny issues - her moniker is "good fighter". But critics say the city's first female leader is arrogant, elitist and unwilling to listen to the people.

It was also hard to imagine she would fare worse than her predecessor Leung Chun-ying, a pro-Beijing hardliner who was widely disliked. But the banners out on Sunday - many with her face emblazoned on - is an indication of just how personal this protest has got.

The huge turnout is a surprise to many, but Ms Lam's unpopularity will not necessarily taint her political career.

"The Hong Kong government is now mostly, if not only, accountable to the central government and no longer considers public opinion as its source of legitimacy," Samson Yuen, a political scientist at Lingnan University, told the BBC.

By this logic, the protesters will find it hard to change minds at the top.

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Image caption Hundreds of thousands of people joined the mainly peaceful march

On Monday, the protests were strongly criticised by an editorial in the state run newspaper China Daily, arguing that "some Hong Kong residents have been hoodwinked by the opposition camp and their foreign allies into supporting the anti-extradition campaign".

The paper argues that "any fair-minded person" would support the "long overdue" bill meant "to plug legal loopholes and prevent Hong Kong from becoming a safe haven for criminals".

After Sunday's mass protests tapered off, violence broke out between some protesters and police. At least three officers and a journalist were injured, according to police.

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Media captionClashes at Hong Kong rally after huge march in protest against a proposed extradition law

What are the proposed changes?

The proposal comes after a 19-year-old Hong Kong man allegedly murdered his 20-year-old pregnant girlfriend while they were holidaying in Taiwan together in February last year.

The man fled to Hong Kong and could not be extradited to Taiwan because no extradition treaty exists between the two.

The changes will allow for extradition requests from authorities in mainland China, Taiwan and Macau for suspects accused of criminal wrongdoing such as murder and rape. The requests will then be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Hong Kong officials have said Hong Kong courts will have the final say over whether to grant such extradition requests, and suspects accused of political and religious crimes will not be extradited.

But critics say people would be subject to arbitrary detention, unfair trial and torture under China's judicial system.

Opposition against the law is widespread across Hong Kong, with groups from all sections of society - ranging from lawyers to schools to house wives - having voiced their criticism or started petitions against the changes.

The government has sought to reassure the public with some concessions, including promising to only hand over fugitives for offences carrying maximum sentences of at least seven years.

Isn't Hong Kong under Chinese rule anyway?

A former British colony, Hong Kong is semi-autonomous under the principle of "one country, two systems" after it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The city has its own laws and its residents enjoy civil liberties unavailable to their mainland counterparts.

Reports about Sunday's protests were heavily censored in mainland China with international media blocked and searches on social media directed to pro-Beijing publications in Hong Kong.

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Image caption Under Xi Jinping, critics say, Beijing is seeking to increase influence over Hong Kong

Hong Kong has entered into extradition agreements with 20 countries, including the UK and the US, but no such agreements have been reached with mainland China despite ongoing negotiations in the past two decades.

Critics have attributed such failures to poor legal protection for defendants under Chinese law.

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