World

Protesters move on after Hong Kong rally

By AAP Newswire

Protesters in Hong Kong have left the streets, averting possible clashes after haggling for hours with police by moving to areas near the city's government headquarters.

The demonstrators who stayed after Sunday's massive protest march were seen streaming into a space outside Hong Kong's Legislative Council on Monday morning.

The activists have rejected an apology from Chief Executive Carrie Lam for her handling of proposed changes to extradition law, which has stoked fears of expanding control from Beijing in this former British colony.

Shortly after daybreak, the police had asked for cooperation in clearing the road but said the protesters could stay on the sidewalks.

For a time, the protesters, many in masks and other gear to guard against possible use of tear gas, responded with chants, some kneeling in front of the officers.

Hundreds were lying or sitting on the roads until they agreed to move to the plaza outside the government building and a spacious nearby park.

Activists had called on Hong Kong residents to boycott school and work, though it was unclear how many might heed that call.

Nearly two million of the city's seven million people turned out on Sunday, according to estimates by protest organisers.

Police said 338,000 were counted on the designated protest route at the peak of the march.

A week earlier, as many as one million people demonstrated over Hong Kong's relations with mainland China in one of the toughest tests of the territory's special status since Beijing took control in a 1997 handover.

The scenes were similar to those seen nearly five years earlier, when protesters camped for weeks in the streets to protest rules that prevented the direct election of the city's chief executive, the top local official.

One of the activists arrested after those demonstrations, Joshua Wong, was released from prison Monday after serving half of a two-month jail sentence for contempt.

He told journalists he needed a bit of time, but: "No matter what happens, I will join the protest soon."

After daybreak on Monday, police announced they wanted to clear the streets. Lines of officers then faced off against several hundred demonstrators on a central Hong Kong street.

On Sunday night, thousands gathered outside the city government headquarters and the office of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who on Saturday suspended her effort to force passage of the bill.

Hong Kong residents worry that allowing some suspects to be sent for trial in mainland China would be another of many steps chipping away at Hong Kong's freedoms and legal autonomy.

One concern is that the law might be used to send criminal suspects to China to potentially face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials.

The protesters are demanding that Lam scrap the proposal for good and that she step down.

Protesters are also angered over the forceful tactics by police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other forceful measures as demonstrators broke through barricades outside the city government's headquarters.

In a statement issued late Sunday, Lam noted the demonstrations and said the government "understands that these views have been made out of love and care for Hong Kong".

"The chief executive apologizes to the people of Hong Kong for this and pledges to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public," it said.

Not enough, said the pro-democracy activists.

"This is a total insult to and fooling the people who took to the street!" the Civil Human Rights Front said in a statement.