June 9 (UPI) -- Organizers estimated more than a million people turned out for a protest Sunday in Hong Kong against a government proposal that could allow extraditions to mainland China.
Protesters gathered in central Hong Kong, a city of more than seven million. The organizers put the crowd at 1.02 million people, according to a report by The New York Times.
Under a "one country, two systems" arrangement, the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997. Hong Kong is allowed to keep its own local institutions.
The demonstrations were peaceful though at one point officers used pepper spray after five or six masked men tried to occupy a major thoroughfare near the route of the march, the public broadcaster RTHK reported.
Police said 153,000 people had set off at the march's starting point from Victoria Park.
After two hours, the front of the crowd reached the Hong Kong government headquarters in the Admiralty neighborhood. People were still arriving a mile and a half away at Victoria Park.
Many protesters were stuck in subway stations as some trains were skipping stations because of overcrowding.
Temperatures were in the 80s with high humidity and scattered rainfall.
The demonstrators, many wearing white as a symbol of justice and also mourning in Chinese culture, carried signs that read, "No evil law."
Some chanted "Hong Kong, never give up!," according to a CNN report.
Other protesters called for Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, to step down.
The crowd included young people and families. And a child clutched a sign saying, "Protect my future."
"I think this law will take away our freedoms if it is implemented," Peter Lam, a 16-year-old high school student, told The New York Times. "We will not have the right to express ourselves. So we must stand up and express ourselves today."
In the proposed law, criminal suspects in some cases could be turned over to Communist Party-controlled courts in mainland China.
"Their judicial system is not good," George Wan, 31, a freelance tour guide and writer at the protest, said of mainland China. "We want to use our footsteps to tell the government we want more time.
He said the Hong Kong government was rushing the legislation through without properly consulting the public.
Lee Kin-long, 46, and wife attended the protest.
"This law is dangerous, and not just for activists," he told The New York Times. "We are not activists. Even as regular citizens, we can't stand to see China eroding away our freedom."
The legislation excludes political crimes. Hong Kong's government also has promised to monitor cases for human rights concerns though charges such as bribery could target people who have angered mainland officials.
In response to businesses fear Hong Kong's reputation as a commercial center could be endangered, the government has removed some economic crimes from the list of extraditable offense. Also crimes punishable by seven or more years in prison, rather than three years.
With the new law, the government can send a Hong Kong man to Taiwan, where he is accused of killing his 20-year-old girlfriend while on vacation.
Taiwan is a self-governing island that Beijing claims as part of Chinese territory. But Taipei officials have said they will refuse to cooperate with the new law if it puts Taiwanese citizens at risk of being extradited to China.
"People have known exactly why there shouldn't be an extradition agreement with China for years," Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, said in a video message Thursday. "The argument that it's better to have an extradition treaty than to abduct people illegally from Hong Kong -- are people really supposed to believe that?"
Thousands also gathered to protest against the extradition bill in cities across Australia.