Thousands meet in Hong Kong for the extradition project of China

HONG KONG: Thousands of protesters gathered in the center Hong Kong , taking advantage of two main roads on Wednesday, in a defiant show of force against the government's plans to allow extradition to China.

The Asian financial center was shaken over the weekend by the largest protest march since the city's return to China in 1997, when a large crowd, estimated by the organizers at more than one million, called on the authorities to eliminate the plan backed by Beijing.

Thousands of black-clad protesters, most of them young and students, blocked two central roads near the government offices with metal barricades, which paralyzed traffic, in an echo of the Occupy movement in 2014 that closed off strips of the city by months

The rows of riot police clashed with protesters, many wearing masks, helmets or goggles, only a few hours before a planned debate on the bill on Wednesday.

Police used pepper spray on protesters in the legislative council building and held signs warning protesters that they were prepared to use force if the crowd did not stop attacking.

The record crowd failed to influence the chief executive, Carrie Lam, who rejected calls to withdraw or delay the bill and warned opponents against the commission of radical acts.

Many are fearful the proposed law will tangle people in the mainland's opaque courts and hammer Hong Kong's reputation as an international business hub.

More than 100 Hong Kong businesses said they would close Wednesday in a sign of solidarity with the protesters, and the city's best student unions announced they would boycott classes to attend the rallies.

A number of other prominent unions in the transport, social work and education sectors did the same or encouraged members to attend, while a bus drivers union said it would encourage members to deliberately drive slowly on Wednesday to support the protests

During the night, a group of around 2,000 protesters held a vigil outside the government offices, with some singing hymns.

The hardliners had made similar plans to spend the night on Sunday, but were prevented by the police, who fought in the execution of battles with small groups of protesters.

Throughout the night of Tuesday, police flooded the area around the government offices, stopping and searching for many young people as they arrived in the area.

Lawmakers will debate the bill on Wednesday morning in the city's legislature, which is dominated by Beijing loyalists. A final vote is expected on June 20.

The proposed law would allow extraditions to any jurisdiction with which Hong Kong does not already have a treaty - including mainland China.

Hong Kong's leaders say it is needed to plug loopholes and to stop the city being a sanctuary for fugitives, and that safeguards are in place to ensure that political criticism of Beijing will not be targeted.

But many Hong Kong ers have little faith in the government's assurances after years of heightened fears that a resurgent Beijing is trying to quash the city's unique freedom and culture - despite a 50-year agreement between Hong Kong's former colonial ruler, Britain, and China that means the city is guaranteed freedoms of speech and assembly unseen on the Chinese mainland.

The pastor of a generally pro-government mega church issued a statement saying he could not support the bill, while the Catholic diocese urged Lam, a devout Catholic, to delay the project.

Western governments have also expressed alarm, as the United States warned this week that the bill would put people at risk for China's capricious judicial system.

Beijing hit back on Tuesday, with a foreign ministry official saying China resolutely opposes interference in Hong Kong affairs.