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Hong Kong marchers gather as protester’s death is mourned

HONG KONG — Hong Kong residents were gathering today for another massive protest over an unpopular extradition bill that has highlighted the territory’s apprehension about relations with mainland China, a week after the crisis brought as many as 1 million into the streets.

A steady stream of mourners were stopping by a makeshift memorial, meanwhile, to lay flowers and pray for a man who fell to his death Saturday after hanging a protest banner.

The man slipped from the grasp of rescuers after clinging for a time to scaffolding outside a shopping mall. He missed a big cushion set up to capture him, and was declared dead at a nearby hospital.

The banner read, “Make Love, No Shoot” and “No Extradition to China.”

“I’m really sad. I’m grieving,” said one visitor, Peron Kwong, after tying a white ribbon to a street rail. “As a person born and raised in Hong Kong, I’m heartbroken when I see Hong Kong become like this.”

Pro-democracy activists were calling for a general strike Monday despite Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s decision to suspend work on the legislation. Some labor unions, teachers associations and other groups were planning boycotts of work and classes.

“We encourage all the public to carry on the campaign,” said Bonny Leung and other leaders of the pro-democracy Civil Human Rights Front.

Many opponents of the extradition legislation are urging Lam to step down and want her to drop the legislation, which many fear would undermine freedoms enjoyed by this former British colony but not elsewhere in China.

The communist government in Beijing issued multiple statements backing Lam’s decision, which she announced in a news conference Saturday.

The battle over legislation has evolved into Hong Kong’s toughest political test since the Communist Party-ruled mainland took control in 1997 with a promise not to interfere with the city’s civil liberties and courts.

Marchers wearing black fanned themselves in sweltering heat as they gathered at the city’s Victoria Park ahead of the mid-afternoon protest. A week earlier up to 1 million rallied in protest, and demonstrations on Wednesday turned violent, with dozens injured as police fought back with tear gas, rubber bullets and other forceful measures.

Lam has said the extradition legislation is needed if Hong Kong to uphold justice, meet its international obligations and not become a magnet for fugitives. The proposed bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.

China has been excluded from Hong Kong’s extradition agreements because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record.

Speaking to reporters after announcing her decision Saturday, Lam sidestepped questions over whether she should quit. She insisted she was not withdrawing the proposed amendment and defended the police.

But she said she was suspending the bill indefinitely. It was time, she said, “for responsible government to restore as quickly as possible this calmness in society.”

“I want to stress that the government is adopting an open mind,” she said. “We have no intention to set a deadline for this work.”

Many here believe Hong Kong’s legal autonomy has been significantly diminished despite Beijing’s insistence that it is still honoring its promises, dubbed “one country, two systems.”

Prosecutions of activists, detentions without trial of five Hong Kong book publishers and the illegal seizure in Hong Kong by mainland agents of at least one mainland businessman are among moves in recent years that have unnerved many in the city of 7 million.