By Tiffany May
HONG KONG — The head of Hong Kong’s legislature said that lawmakers must vote by the end of next week on a contentious bill that would allow extraditions to China, rejecting demands for a delay despite mass protests over the weekend opposing the legislation.
The decision, announced Tuesday by the president of the Legislative Council, Andrew Leung, was set to further inflame tensions in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory, after hundreds of thousands of people turned out Sunday for one of the largest protests in the city’s recent history.
Residents were planning protests, strikes and a transportation slowdown for Wednesday, when lawmakers are set to debate the bill. The city’s police force said no violence would be tolerated at any public events, and The South China Morning Post, a local newspaper, reported that thousands of additional officers had been mobilized.
Leung said that the bill would go to a vote June 20 after 66 hours of debate, adding “the case is pressing and has to be handled as soon as possible.” The measure is likely to pass in the local legislature, where pro-Beijing lawmakers hold 43 of 70 seats.
Opposition lawmakers had expected the vote to take place around the end of the month, based on a regular schedule of meetings twice a week.
Billy Li, a barrister and representative of the Progressive Lawyers Group, said he was angered by the decision to accelerate the vote.
“The Legislative Council, as a body that regulates the government, not only failed to respond to the dissenting voices of the people but rather accelerated the situation,” Li said. “It is not willing to allow the people to understand the case but is hastily forcing the public to accept it.”
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, has said the new law is urgently needed to prosecute a Hong Kong man who is wanted in Taiwan for the murder of his girlfriend. But authorities in Taiwan, a self-governed island claimed by Beijing, say they would not agree to the extradition arrangement because it would treat Taiwan as part of China.
Critics contend that the law would allow virtually anyone in the city to be picked up and detained in mainland China, where judges must follow the orders of the ruling Communist Party. They fear the new law would target not just criminal suspects but political activists as well.