Thousands of protesters in Hong Kong gathered in front of the city's police headquarters on Friday afternoon amid strengthened calls for the complete withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill, which stirred weeks of protest.
Protesters, mostly students, began gathering in front of the city's Legislative Council on Friday morning, after the government failed to respond to key demands outlined by student activists by a Thursday deadline. They included scrapping the controversial extradition bill in its entirety, dropping charges against protesters arrested last week, investigating reports of police brutality and walking back on references to the demonstrations as a "riot", which is considered a serious offense under Hong Kong law and carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
Protesters soon moved towards the police headquarters and then spread in the direction of the Immigration Tower in Wan Chai, blocking access to main roads and occupying the first two floors of the building, according to Bloomberg.
According to Hong Kong Free Press, pro-democracy leaders addressed crowds outside the police headquarters and demanded that Secretary for Security John Lee and Police Commissioner Stephen Lo step down in response to violent clashes that broke out between police and protesters last week.
Prominent activist Joshua Wong called on Lo to "come down and face the people."
"Protesters are NOT rioters. Drop all political prosecution. Hold the police accountable!" he wrote on Twitter.
Demonstrations on Friday afternoon were considerably smaller than those in recent weeks, which saw as many as two million people participate, according to organizers, while police put the number at over 300,000, The New York Times reported.
Protests began earlier this month as the Legislative Council of the semi-autonomous territory prepared to debate a controversial bill which would allow for the extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China. Critics say the bill would subject Hong Kong residents to unfair trials in China and would encourage China's encroachment on the region.
Last week, demonstrations turned violent as police fired tear gas and shot rubber bullets into crowds of protesters gathered in front of the territory's Legislative Council. At least 11 people were arrested and 81 people were injured.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam conceded to protesters on Saturday by postponing a debate on the bill. Her announcement did not quell the protesters, who piled into the streets on Sunday demanding full withdrawal of the legislation.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam publicly apologized for stoking protests though she refused to table the bill completely. Protest leaders remain unimpressed by Lam's apology and have demanded her resignation and encouraged ongoing protests.