Tens of thousands of protesters gathered outside Hong Kong’s police headquarters Friday night, demanding the resignation of the city’s pro-Beijing leader and the release of demonstrators arrested during the territory’s worst political crisis in decades.
Their demands fell on deaf ears, but the protesters outfoxed authorities and surprised officials by laying siege to a number of government offices.
In the morning a few hundred protesters first gathered outside the Legislative Council building in Admiralty for what they said would be a day of “escalation” in their campaign against proposed changes to the extradition bill.
The issues the protesters wanted addressed were a retraction of the extradition bill, the term riot being dropped against those arrested and charged and a thorough investigation into whether the police used excessive force against the protesters.
They had said if the government failed to accede to their demands, they would escalate the protest and surround government headquarters and launch a civil disobedience campaign. But things changed and except for the morning session, a small number of protesters were seen near the government headquarters or Tamar Park.
Instead, protesters in black with helmets and goggles had adopted a wildcat tactic. Thousands of protesters besieged police headquarters on Arsenal Street in Wan Chai, prompting police negotiators to come out and call for the protesters to express their views in a peaceful manner.
The crowd booed and continued to chant for the release of all protesters and demanded to meet Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung. The negotiators soon retreated back into the building, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.
Meanwhile, unlike the 2014 Umbrella Movement which needed tens of thousands of protesters to blockade the road, it took only a few hundred on Friday to occupy Harcourt Road and Tim Mei Avenue, chocking traffic. There was no heavy police presence in the area.
In the afternoon, the protesters used a different tactic. They took over the lobbies of Revenue Tower and Immigration Tower on Gloucester Road in Wan Chai, as well as the Queensway Government Offices. Civil servants at the Inland Revenue Department were allowed to go home early.
Some civil servants who had gone out for lunch found themselves unable to get back into their buildings as hundreds blocked the entrances. Along with the general public, they weren’t happy.
But a video on social media showed that protesters helped citizens to pass on and file their tax return forms and put them in collection boxes located the Revenue Tower lobby.
Protesters said they would stay until the government responded to all their demands. However, by 5pm on Friday there has been no response from Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor or her administration.
Meanwhile, many government officials offered apologies after Lam issued her “most sincere apology” on Tuesday when she announced the suspension of the contentious extradition bill.
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah joined the “apologized list” on Friday, followed Lam and Security Secretary John Lee Ka-chiu, but only on a blog post.
Cheng wrote in her blog published on the department’s website that she apologized to the people of Hong Kong for the trouble caused by the now-suspended extradition bill.
“Being a team member of the Government, I offer my sincere apology to all people of Hong Kong. We promise to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public,” Cheng wrote.
Security Secretary John Lee Ka-chiu had apologized in person over the same issue on Wednesday when he was questioned over the allegedly abusive police response at the Legislative Council.
While the government stayed silent over the protesters’ ultimatum, a pro-establishment lawmaker, on the other hand, said in public that the government should think about to re-launching the extradition law after the summer.
Ann Chiang Lai-wan, a lawmaker from the largest pro-government political party Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, had said in an interview on nowTV that the government could consider putting the planned law changes back to the legislature once it had carried out a few months of publicity work.
But her party immediately distanced itself from Chiang’s comment, saying Chiang’s comment on bringing back the bill was just her own personal opinion and this had not been discussed by the party.
According to a post of the party’s Facebook page, the pro-government party said it understood and respected the chief executive’s decision to suspend the legislation in order to lessen tensions in society.
The party agreed with Lam that there should be no timetable for the bill to be resurrected and it the commencement of the work should only be considered after the society reached a consensus.