Hong Kong is bracing for mass strikes after thousands braved overnight thunderstorms to stage a wave of fresh protests against a proposed extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would press ahead with the legislation despite deep concerns across the Asian financial hub that triggered on Sunday its biggest political demonstration since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Demonstrators from across a spectrum of Hong Kong society began joining the overnight protesters early on Wednesday as businesses across the city prepared to go on strike.
Many youths could be seen dozing after a long night camped out as commuters made their way to work.
The bill is due for a second round of debate on Wednesday in Hong Kong’s 70-seat Legislative Council.
The legislature is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.
Lam has sought to soothe public concerns and said her administration was creating additional amendments to the bill, including safeguarding human rights.
In a rare move, prominent business leaders warned pushing through the extradition law could undermine investor confidence in Hong Kong and erode its competitive advantages.
Sunday’s protest, which organisers said saw more than a million people take to the streets, in addition to a snowballing backlash against the extradition bill could raise questions about Lam’s ability to govern.
“When the fugitive extradition bill is passed, Hong Kong will become a ‘useless Hong Kong’,” said Jimmy Sham, convenor of Civil Human Rights Front, the main organiser of Sunday’s demonstration.
“We will be deep in a place where foreign investors are afraid to invest and tourists are afraid to go. Once the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, it will become nothing,” he said.
Protesters remained defiant early on Wednesday, rallying peacefully a stone’s throw from the financial centre where glittering skyscrapers house the offices of some of the world’s biggest companies.
One sat on a small plastic stool outside the gates of government offices waving Hong Kong’s colonial-era flag, featuring a Union Jack, in front of a dozen police officers.
HSBC and Standard Chartered, in addition to the Big Four accounting firms, all agreed to flexible work arrangements for staff on Wednesday, Hong Kong media reported.
Security was tight in and around the legislature building, with riot police deployed in some areas.
Strikes and transport go-slows were also announced for Wednesday as businesses, students, bus drivers, social workers, teachers and other groups all vowed to protest in a last-ditch effort to block the bill.