Hong Kong police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at
protesters gathered outside government headquarters on Wednesday, who are opposing
a proposed extradition bill, the Associated Press (AP) reports.
The afternoon violence marked a major escalation in the
semiautonomous Chinese city's biggest political crisis in years. It came after
protesters earlier in the day forced the delay of a legislative debate over the
bill, which would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent for trial in
mainland China. The proposed measure has become a lightning rod for concerns
over greater Chinese control and erosion of civil liberties in the territory.
The mainly young crowd overflowed onto a major downtown road
as they overturned barriers and clashed with police. When some appeared to have
breached the police cordon around the building, the police launched their
response, which also included firing pepper spray and water hoses, AP reports.
Earlier, a curt government statement said the legislative
session, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., would be changed to a later time. Officials
gave no indication of when that would be and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam
canceled a scheduled news briefing.
The protests are the largest since pro-democracy
demonstrations shut down parts of the Asian financial center for more than
three months in 2014. Some also consider the protests as a serious challenge to
China's ruling Communist Party and President Xi Jinping, who has in the past
said he would not tolerate Hong Kong being used as a base to challenge the
party's authority. And they are also giving vent to young Hong Kong residents
alienated by a political process dominated by the territory's economic elite.
At a brief news conference held as the chaos swirled just
outside, the Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung called the demonstration
a riot. That could mean long jail terms for anyone arrested, adding to concerns
that Hong Kong's government is using public disturbance laws to intimidate
political protesters, AP reports.
For guidance on dealing with protests from a security
standpoint, see Martin Herman’s article “Preparing
for Protests” in Security Management magazine.