Hong Kong authorities on Thursday made no response to demands from protesters that they withdraw a hugely unpopular legal amendment that could allow people to be extradited to face charges in mainland Chinese courts.
The Hong Kong Federation of Students issued an ultimatum to the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam on Wednesday calling for total withdrawal of the government's amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, as well as a probe into police violence at last week's protests, and the unconditional release of all those arrested during clashes on June 12.
Should officials fail to meet their demands by 5:00 p.m. local time on Thursday, the federation and other civic groups said they would call on citizens to surround government headquarters on Friday and start mass civil disobedience action, potentially sparking another round of mass protests at the weekend.
Instead, the government announced its headquarters would be temporarily closed for the whole of Friday.
"Due to security considerations, the Central Government Offices (CGO) will be temporarily closed tomorrow (June 21)," the government said in a press statement, the fifth such closure since the anti-extradition protests began.
"Staff working in the CGO should not go to the workplace ... All visits to the CGO will be postponed or cancelled," it said.
Chinese University student union leader So Chun Fung said everyone would likely find their own way to protest the lack of response from the government, which has "postponed" the amendments but has refused to withdraw them, prompting fears that they could be reintroduced when protests have died down.
"Everyone will do their own thing, based on principles of inclusion and non-judgement," So told RFA on Thursday. "In the event that the situation escalates into something like [the police violence of] June 12, we in higher education will be there, offering our support behind the front line with support work of various kinds."
"We offered both practical and legal assistance on June 12," So said.
Large turnout expected
Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung said he would keep vigil outside the Legislative Council (LegCo) until tomorrow, holding a banner calling on Carrie Lam to "stop killing and hurting our students!"
He said he expects a large turnout.
"We are genuinely concerned that huge numbers could turn out," Cheung told RFA. "If the police crack down on them there will be another June 12: we are very worried about that."
He said pro-democracy lawmakers like himself were planning to stand at the front lines of the protest to try to ensure the safety of young people.
"Our role, and our responsibility, of course, will be to monitor the actions of the police and the government," Cheung said. "We don't want to see any bloodshed whatsoever."
A student who gave only his surname So said he wasn't very worried about getting hurt, however, and is looking forward to protesting ahead of a trade summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump at the end of the month.
"I'm not that worried, because I've seen how much many Hong Kong people were willing to sacrifice," So said. "I don't really think there's much reason to be afraid for myself."
"I think the attitude of chief executive Carrie Lam has been embarrasing in the past couple of days: she's obviously just trying to play word games and use delaying tactics," he said. "How do we force the government's hand? International pressure."
Threat to Hong Kong's status
Police use of tear gas, batons, pepper spray and rubber and bean bag bullets on June 12 sparked a mass protest of around two million people on Sunday, calling for the extradition amendments to be withdrawn and for Lam's resignation.
The amendments are widely seen as a threat to Hong Kong's way of life, which was supposed to have been protected under the "one country, two systems" framework under which the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.
If they become law, the city could lose its status as a separate legal jurisdiction and trading entity, while journalists, visitors, rights activists, dissidents, democratic politicians, and the business community could be targeted for words and actions deemed illegal by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and extradited to face trial in Chinese courts.
Reported by Tseng Lap-yin and Tam Siu-yin for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.