Protesters in Hong Kong left the streets, averting possible clashes Monday after haggling for hours with police by moving to areas near the city’s government headquarters.
The demonstrators who stayed after a massive protest march the day before, demanding that Chief Executive Carrie Lam abandon a proposed extradition bill, were seen streaming Monday morning into a space outside Hong Kong’s Legislative Council after police who had cleared it reopened the area. Their decision to move allowed police to reopen streets to traffic.
The activists have rejected an apology from Lam for her handling of the legislation, 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 classes and work, though it was unclear how many might heed that call. Nearly 2 million of the city’s 7 million people turned out on Sunday, according to estimates by protest organizers.
Police said 338,000 were counted on the designated protest route in the “peak period” of the march. A week earlier as many as 1 million people demonstrated to voice their concern 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 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 to quell unrest during demonstrations on Wednesday, and over Lam’s decision to call the clashes a riot. That worsens the potential legal consequences for those involved.