Hong Kong Police estimated the number of protesters closer to 240,000.
The bill has caused political gridlock, outcry among the city’s usually pro-conservative business community, and even physical scuffles in the city’s legislature, as well as criticism of the Hong Kong government by the United States and European Union.
Sunday afternoon, protesters gathered at Victoria Park in central Hong Kong, waving placards and wearing white — the designated color of the rally. “Hong Kong, never give up!” some chanted.
Other protesters were heard chanting “step down,” “shelve the evil law,” “anti extradition to China,” and called for Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, to step down, as the marchers made their way along the 3-kilometer (1.86-mile) route to the Legislative Council in the Admiralty business district.
At around 7:30 p.m. in Hong Kong (7:30 a.m. ET), five to six men with masks planned to occupy a main road in the city, Hong Kong Police said on Twitter.
Police said they used pepper spray on the protesters before they escaped the area. Officers urged protesters to disperse.
Thousands also gathered to protest the extradition bill in cities across Australia on Sunday. Similar marches were planned in other cities around the world, Hong Kong political group Demosisto said in a statement.
At about 10.30 p.m. (10.30 a.m. ET), organizers announced that the protest had ended. CNN journalists on the ground said the bulk of the protesters had dispersed by then, leaving a number of people milling around the Legislative Council.
Late Sunday, the government of Hong Kong released a statement acknowledging the ongoing protests across the island but reiterating the contested bill is still scheduled to resume debate June 12.
“We urge the Legislative Council to scrutinize the Bill in a calm, reasonable and respectful manner to help ensure Hong Kong remains a safe city for residents and business,” it said.
Murder of tourist
The case for the bill was expedited by a grisly murder case in Taiwan, where a 20-year-old Hong Kong woman was allegedly killed by her boyfriend while on holiday there. Currently, the suspect cannot be sent from Hong Kong to face justice in Taiwan.
Earlier this week, Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, slammed the bill.
Unwanted and unneeded?
Business groups in Hong Kong usually take a neutral stance on contentious political issues. But this time they, too, have spoken out against the bill. In a bid to secure their support, the government has limited the scope of extraditable offenses — but for some that is still not enough.
“Hong Kong is not ready to see this bill passed and we do not see why it should be rushed through when the loophole it seeks to address has existed for 20 years,” the chamber said in a statement.
But government spokesman Matthew Cheung said the move was time sensitive.
“The suspect in the Taiwan murder case is serving sentences for other criminal offenses in Hong Kong but is expected to be released this October,” Cheung said. “There is thus a pressing need to provide a legal basis for the assistance that we want to render to Taiwan, before the (legislature) goes into summer recess from mid-July to October.”
A US State Department spokesperson said Washington is “concerned by the Hong Kong government’s proposed amendments to its Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, which would allow for individuals to be transferred to mainland China at the request of Communist Party authorities, and is closely monitoring the situation.”
“Societies are best served when diverse political views are respected and can be freely expressed,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Continued erosion of the ‘One country, Two systems’ framework puts at risk Hong Kong’s long-established special status in international affairs.”
The extradition bill, particularly an attempt to fast-track it through Hong Kong’s semi-democratic legislature, has reinvigorated the city’s flagging opposition movement after numerous setbacks.
Fears over the bill — and criticism from a broad swath of Hong Kong society — echo 2003, when half a million people took to the streets to oppose the passage of an anti-sedition law. That legislation was shelved but the issue has become such a hot-button topic in Hong Kong that — despite promising to do so — no governments since have attempted to introduce it.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of people who participated in protests in Hong Kong on Sunday. The Civil Human Rights Front estimates there were 1.03 million protesters.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler in Washington contributed to this report.