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Hong Kong makes history as black sea of protesters denounce city’s leader and Beijing

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Hong Kong. In Hong Kong’s biggest protests since Britain handed this former colony back to China in 1997, organizers said nearly 2 million people took to the streets Sunday to denounce their own government and, by extension, Beijing and China’s Communist party. 

Angry yet peaceful demonstrators, clad in black to signify their fury, shouted slogans and showed off placards demanding the revocation of controversial extradition proposals, the release of student demonstrators who were arrested after violent clashes in the past week and the resignation of the city’s top leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Government figures estimated the number of protesters as closer to 1 million, though disparities are common with such head counts.

CBS News walked the route with protesters from Victoria Park, the site of the city’s June 4 vigil commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, to Hong Kong’s Central Government Offices about 2 miles east, to Admiralty near the city’s central business district.

At the heart of this massive storm, Hong Kong’s citizens say they fear that suggested changes to current extradition laws would subject them to mainland China’s legal system. Lawyers claim fair trials and due process across the soft border are questionable, with people having been accused of crimes they did not commit. In 2014, several Hong Kong booksellers critical of China also infamously disappeared, inexplicably reappearing in custody across the border. Legal critics say the passage of Lam’s proposals would be tantamount to opening the door to legalized kidnapping.

On Saturday, Lam responded to the rising pressure and pulled a major reversal on her proposals, indefinitely suspending future debate on extradition. She refused to apologize, however, for the fallout that rained down on the city in the week prior. Several dozen people — both protesters and police — were injured in some of the most violent clashes in recent memory that involved tear gas, bricks, rubber bullets and batons.

Protests consumed the city again Sunday afternoon — for the third time in just one week — with people demanding a complete withdrawal and end to any discussion linked to changes to the city’s extradition arrangements. The first death of a protester, who fell from a building onto one of the city’s main thoroughfares after hanging an anti-extradition banner, further spurred people to demonstrate in force.

Tens of thousands of protesters march through the streets as they continue to protest an extradition bill, Sunday, June 16, 2019, in Hong Kong.AP

Late Sunday evening, Lam made yet another concession that only served to rile her detractors further. A text-only statement from a government spokesperson was released, saying “the Chief Executive apologizes to the public and promises to accept criticism with the utmost sincerity and humility, to improve and serve the general public.” 

The opposition Civil Human Rights Front, a loose organization of anti-extradition and anti-establishment leaders, quickly released its own statement: “This is a total insult … Hong Kongers will not accept this!”

Beijing, for its part, issued its own text statement Saturday, claiming that officials “support, respect and understand” the decision by Hong Kong’s chief executive and “stressed that the Central Government has fully affirmed” her work. Yet as Hong Kong’s protests began Sunday, China Central Television seemingly ignored the issue at hand, instead broadcasting a report on President Xi Jinping’s visit to the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan.

The protests, violence and backtracking of the past week appear to be the biggest crisis in Hong Kong’s ties with mainland China since its return from colonial rule. The city, currently governed under a “one country, two systems” policy, is scheduled to officially revert to total mainland Chinese control in 2047. Critics say the past week’s events and the rising tensions of the past 22 years show that system may be failing.

– CBS News , Erin Lyall in Hong Kong and Grace Qi in Beijing contributed to this report.

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