Protesters gather outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Wednesday, June 12, 2019.
Protesters gather outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Wednesday, June 12, 2019.

Police in Hong Kong fired tear gas as they clashed Wednesday with protesters who had gathered outside government headquarters to demonstrate in opposition to an extradition bill.

Officers wearing helmets and carrying shields lined up on streets and from time to time moved to push back protesters, some of whom overturned barricades and threw objects at police.

Earlier in the day, the government announced the legislature would postpone a planned session Wednesday where lawmakers were scheduled to debate the controversial extradition measure. The bill would make it easier for authorities to extradite people to countries where it lacks a long-term agreement, such as mainland China.  Hundreds of businesses had already announced their intention to close their doors to allow employees to attend a planned protest.  

A statement issued by the Legislative Council said Wednesday's session would be changed to a later date.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is backing the legislation, defying a massive protest Sunday attended by hundreds of thousands of citizens. The prospect of extradition to China in particular, which has a substantially different legal system, has alarmed a wide cross section of Hong Kong -- from international business groups to legal societies and pro-democracy parties.

Policemen in anti-riot gear stand watch as protesters use umbrellas to shield themselves near the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Wednesday, June 12, 2019.

The proposed law has also attracted criticism from the international community, including the United States. China accused the United States Tuesday of interfering in its internal affairs.  

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was granted special autonomy for 50 years after it returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.  But many in Hong Kong are concerned that China is slowly encroaching on those rights and tightening its grip on the territory.

The so-called Umbrella Movement protests were launched in 2014 to demand the direct election of the city's top leader after China reneged on promises of universal suffrage by 2017. The protests ended without winning any concessions from the Hong Kong government.