HONG KONG -- Acrid clouds of tear gas still hung in the air as Avery Cheng crouched to the floor, weeping, on a pedestrian overpass. Crowds of young protesters in T-shirts and surgical masks sprinted past, coughing and splashing water in their eyes.
Armored police in riot gear marched toward the running crowds, shooting rubber bullets, bean bags and tear gas canisters, then chasing the mostly unarmed youth with batons and pepper spray.
The protesters ran, rubbing their eyes, then stopped to turn and chant, "Retract! Retract!" Riot police continued to advance.
"This is just so cruel," said the 19-year-old Cheng.
He'd come to Hong Kong's legislative center in the morning to protest an extradition bill that would allow China to bring people from Hong Kong to the mainland for trial. Hongkongers fear that would be the end of freedom of speech and assembly that Hong Kong maintains as a semiautonomous region.
More than a million people marched in protest against the bill on Sunday, according to organizers. Yet, Hong Kong's chief executive, Carrie Lam, said Hong Kong's legislative council would proceed with the bill, discuss it on Wednesday and vote by June 20. The government later announced it would delay discussion of the bill, which is expected to pass despite public opinion because Beijing controls a majority of the legislature.
That didn't stop tens of thousands of protesters from showing up Wednesday, aiming to obstruct legislative procedures by blocking access to the building.
Hundreds of demonstrators had already arrived at the complex by Tuesday night, some of them church members who sang hymns facing police from 9 p.m. until dawn, waving white flowers in the air.
"We are singing because we want to say that although the government is ruling us, above them there is a Lord who sees what's happening, who is just, and who knows they lie and everything they do," said Ryan Tsang, a 26-year-old participant. The older church members were also there to watch over youth protesters and protect them in case violence broke out, he added.
A middle-aged woman handed out slips of advice and free legal hotlines in case of detention. Two 22-year-olds wearing face masks helped her pass them out, giving their names as Tony and John but refusing to give last names out of fear that police would target them.