Hong Kong is bracing for more protests as a key deadline approaches for the government to withdraw a divisive extradition bill.
Protesters have issued an ultimatum to the government to cancel the bill by 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, local time. The Hong Kong Federation of Students called for Hongkongers to surround the government’s headquarters starting at 7:00 a.m. Friday if the administration fails to comply.
The federation also called for acts of “civil disobedience” in what is fast becoming not just a demonstration against divisive legislation but a push for greater political freedom and a mass repudiation of the territory’s sovereign power, Beijing.
“I urge [Hong Kong’s top official] Carrie Lam to answer those demands by 5:00 p.m. The government needs to face the voice of the people; they need to respond,” prominent democracy activist Joshua Wong, 22, told TIME.
Earlier, he told reporters: “Civil disobedience is the plan.”
Hong Kong’s biggest circulating newspaper, the Apple Daily, gave the protesters’ demands front-page prominence in Thursday morning’s edition. Several versions of the ultimatum have been widely spread online.
An anonymous “Open Letter to All Hong Kongers,” posted in an online forum heavily used by protesters, said that demonstrators were “forced to escalate” and asked “the general public for your understanding and sympathy … This pain is nothing to us: for as long as you stand there, either behind us or beside us, we will face whatever danger is ahead with unflinching hope.”
Protesters began showing up outside Lam’s office from the mid-afternoon, holding signs that read “Culprit Carrie Lam.”
“It is quite obvious that the government has lost all its legitimacy to continue,” said lawmaker Fernando Cheung, who was among the crowd. “I think it’s quite clear that the younger generation has given her a deadline.”
“An apology requires action, not just a statement,” said one protester from a parents group, referring to a public apology made by Lam a day earlier. “This is a fake apology, just for show.”
Another protester called on Lam to “Come out here. Come our and speak with us.”
Millions of people took to the streets on the last two Sundays to voice their opposition to proposed legislation that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. Hongkongers fear that Beijing would use the extradition law as a political weapon to silence critics and dissidents, destroying the city’s cherished freedoms.
Lam suspended the bill on Saturday after a June 9 march that organizers say was attended by a million people—but an estimated two million people still took to the streets on Sunday to call for her resignation and the bill’s full withdrawal. Others turned out to mourn a man who plunged to his death Saturday night after unfurling an anti-extradition banner from the side of a luxury mall. The man, surnamed Leung, is being hailed as a martyr to Hong Kong’s freedom movement.
Lam called a press conference on Tuesday at which she made a public apology and took responsibility for the debacle. The city’s security secretary John Lee also apologized on Thursday morning for the division the legislation had wrought in Hong Kong. Several protesters arrested by police after a June 12 protest turned violent were arrested without charge.
The tense political climate meanwhile means that lawmakers dare not proceed with a bill that would criminalize abuse of China’s national anthem, which is widely jeered at local soccer matches. Discussion of the bill has been dropped, and debate over a much criticized land reclamation project—the most expensive infrastructure project ever proposed in the city—has likewise been postponed.
Protesters and democratic lawmakers alike say that the suspension of the extradition bill and Lam’s apology are not enough.
“I am deeply disappointed she did not withdraw the bill,” legislator Au Nok-hin told TIME. “There are still many people that will look for a chance to come out and protest again.”
“They blame the protestors who threw stones on June 12. But the one who threw the first stone is Carrie Lam. She’s never stopped,” said lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki, who joined protesters outside Lam’s office on Thursday afternoon.
Further protests are already being planned beyond this weekend. The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), a coalition of pro-democracy groups that organized the protest marches, is encouraging Hongkongers to come out en masse on July 1—a politically charged date as it is the anniversary of the city’s handover to Chinese sovereignty.
“I hope there will be no more injuries, no more tragedy,” said Cheung, calling for police restraint.
—With reporting by Laignee Barron and Abhishyant Kidangoor / Hong Kong