Hong Kong police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who had gathered outside government headquarters Wednesday in opposition to a proposed extradition bill that has become a lightning rod for concerns over greater Chinese control and erosion of civil liberties in the territory. The afternoon violence marked a major escalation in the semi-autonomous city's biggest political crisis in years. It came after protesters earlier in the day forced the delay of a legislative debate over the bill, which would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent for trial in mainland China, the AP reports. The overwhelmingly young crowd had overflowed onto a major downtown road as they overturned barriers and tussled with police outside the government building.
But when some appeared to have breached the police cordon around the building, the police launched their response, which also included firing pepper spray and water hoses. Earlier, a curt government statement said the legislative session scheduled to begin at 11am would be "changed to a later time." Officials gave no indication of when that would be and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam canceled a scheduled news briefing. The delay appeared to have been at least a temporary victory for the bill's opponents, whose protests are the largest since pro-democracy demonstrations closed down parts of the Asian financial center for more than three months in 2014. (On Sunday, Hong Kong saw one of the largest demonstrations in its history.)