International pressure on Hong Kong is mounting after police Wednesday deployed tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters opposing a controversial extradition bill that would tighten Beijing’s hold on the semiautonomous territory.
The chaos unfolding in the financial hub, where young, black-clad protesters have squared off with armed riot police, prompted global leaders to urge police restraint.
President Donald Trump said he hopes that Hong Kong “will be able to work it out with China.”
Speaking from the White House, Trump said Sunday’s march against the bill—at which organizers counted 1.03 million participants—was “as big a demonstration as I’ve ever seen.”
“I understand the reason for the demonstration, but I’m sure they’ll be able to work it out,” he added.
The proposed extradition bill, which for the first time would allow suspects to be transferred to the mainland for trial, has exacerbated deep-seated fears about the erosion of the former British colony’s autonomy. Critics say the special status and independent judiciary guaranteed to Hong Kong during the 1997 handover to China would effectively be destroyed. The Hong Kong government insists the bill is a necessary update to prevent the territory from becoming a criminal haven.
Huge crowds have taken to the streets, and on Wednesday surrounded the city’s legislature, forcing a debate of the divisive bill to be postponed. But the sit-in culminated in a crackdown, with police using force and liberally spraying tear gas to clear protesters occupying main thoroughfares. More than 70 people were reportedly injured.
The European Union called on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to reconsider the proposed bill, saying that the E.U. “shares many of the concerns raised by citizens of Hong Kong.” In a statement, the economic bloc urged the city government to respect the rights of Hong Kongers.
U.K. Prime Minister Teresa May meanwhile called for the former British colony’s autonomy to be protected. “We are concerned about potential effects of these proposals particularly obviously given the large number of British citizens there are in Hong Kong,” May told parliament, according to Reuters.
“It is vital that those extradition arrangements in Hong Kong are in line with the rights and freedoms that were set down in the Sino-British joint declaration,” she added, referring to the handover agreement which stipulated a “one country, two systems” framework for governing the city.
Following the mass march on Sunday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Congress may have to reconsider the city’s special trading status in light of the law.
“The hearts of all freedom-loving people were moved by the courage of the one million men & women of Hong Kong who took to the streets to peacefully demand their rights & denounce this horrific extradition bill,” Pelosi said in a statement. “America stands with the people of Hong Kong.”
Senator and 2020 presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren Tweeted that her heart is with the people of Hong Kong.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen Tweeted that she was “utterly saddened” to see the police firing on protesters, while Australia’s Foreign Minister urged “all sides to show restraint and avoid violence.”
Rights groups condemned the “excessive force” employed by the city’s police. Amnesty International said the use of tear gas and pepper spray against “overwhelmingly peaceful protesters” was a “violation of international law” and Human Rights Watch said the police actions were “unnecessary” and called on authorities to “show restraint.”
After police succeeded in clearing the streets Wednesday, traffic resumed through the city center as usual on Thursday, but a subway station and high-end shopping mall near the government headquarters were closed. Pockets of protesters continued to gather around the legislature, matched by a heavy police presence.