Hong Kong braced for the possibility of more anti-government protests on Thursday after scenes of violence and chaos shook the normally peaceful global trade and finance center a day earlier.
Riot police were visible on the street near the local legislature — the epicenter of Wednesday’s turmoil — but their presence was lighter, as rain poured down on the territory. There were few signs of protesters in the area.
Government offices in the financial district were closed for the rest of the week due to the protests. The main subway station servicing the area remained shut.
Police and demonstrators clashed for hours on Wednesday as citizens protested against Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s proposed legal amendments that would allow people in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China.
Violence broke out outside the local legislature, that was surrounded by demonstrators for much of the day. Police wielding batons and riot shields fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowds, and protesters used open umbrellas as defense, with some throwing objects at police.
The Hong Kong Hospital Authority said 72 people were hospitalized by 10 p.m. HK/SIN time on Wednesday, Reuters reported.
Lam, who has refused to withdraw or delay the extradition plan, held her ground and condemned the protests as “intolerable” in an evening video address.
“Clearly, this is no longer a peaceful assembly but a blatant, organised riot, and in no way an act of loving Hong Kong,” she said.
Hong Kong citizens, who enjoy a British-based legal system independent from the rest of China, fear the plan could threaten those judicial protections and their broader autonomy as well.
The territory of 7.4 million people, formerly part of the British Empire, has been a specially administered region of China since July 1, 1997.
It has its own government, currency, police force and civil service. Under a unique “one country, two systems” framework, China handles foreign affairs and defense and the the People’s Liberation Army maintains a small garrison but keeps a low profile.
Lawmakers at the assembly — known as the Legislative Council — were due to debate the proposal Wednesday but officials were forced to postpone the session due to the protests and it remained unclear when they would be able to convene.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index closed 1.73% lower on Wednesday after slumping as much as 2% in the afternoon session, amid the street clashes.