From right, Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng listen to reporters questions during a press conference. Picture: Vincent Yu/AP
From right, Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng listen to reporters questions during a press conference. Picture: Vincent Yu/AP
Police officers use pepper spray against protesters in a rally against the proposed amendments to the extradition law at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. Picture: Vincent Yu/AP
Police officers use pepper spray against protesters in a rally against the proposed amendments to the extradition law at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. Picture: Vincent Yu/AP
A protester sits near barriers after police officers clash against protesters in a rally against the proposed amendments to the extradition law at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. Picture: Vincent Yu/AP
A protester sits near barriers after police officers clash against protesters in a rally against the proposed amendments to the extradition law at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. Picture: Vincent Yu/AP
A Hong Kong police officer with blood flowing down his face is assisted by his colleague after clashing with protesters in a rally against the proposed amendments to the extradition law at the Legislative Council. Picture: Vincent Yu/AP
A Hong Kong police officer with blood flowing down his face is assisted by his colleague after clashing with protesters in a rally against the proposed amendments to the extradition law at the Legislative Council. Picture: Vincent Yu/AP
Protesters use barriers against the proposed amendments to the extradition law at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. Picture: Vincent Yu/AP
Protesters use barriers against the proposed amendments to the extradition law at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. Picture: Vincent Yu/AP
The extradition law has aroused concerns that this legislation would undermine the city's independent judicial system as it allows Hong Kong to hand over fugitives to the jurisdictions that the city doesn't currently have an extradition agreement with, including mainland China, where a fair trial might not be guaranteed. Picture: Vincent Yu/AP
The extradition law has aroused concerns that this legislation would undermine the city's independent judicial system as it allows Hong Kong to hand over fugitives to the jurisdictions that the city doesn't currently have an extradition agreement with, including mainland China, where a fair trial might not be guaranteed. Picture: Vincent Yu/AP
Police officers use pepper spray against protesters in a rally against the proposed amendments to the extradition law at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. Picture: Vincent Yu/AP
Police officers use pepper spray against protesters in a rally against the proposed amendments to the extradition law at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. Picture: Vincent Yu/AP

Hong Kong - Hong Kong's leader signaled Monday that her government will push ahead with controversial amendments to extradition laws despite a massive protest against them that underscored fears about mainland China's broadening footprint in the semi-autonomous territory.

In what was likely Hong Kong's largest protest in more than a decade, hundreds of thousands of people shut down the heart of the skyscraper-studded city on Sunday, three days before the Legislative Council is slated to take up the bill.

The demonstrations refocused attention on the former British colony, whose residents have long bristled at what many see as efforts by Beijing to tighten control, and dominated newspaper front pages in a city that allows far more freedom of expression than other parts of China.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam told reporters the legislation is important and will help Hong Kong uphold justice and fulfill its international obligations. Safeguards added in May will ensure that the legislation protects human rights, she said.

Hong Kong was guaranteed the right to retain its own social, legal and political systems for 50 years under an agreement reached before its 1997 return to China from British rule. But China's ruling Communist Party has been seen as increasingly reneging on that agreement by pushing through unpopular legal changes.

The extradition law amendments would allow Hong Kong to send people to mainland China to face charges, spurring criticism that defendants in the Chinese judicial system won't have the same rights as they would in Hong Kong. Opponents contend the proposed legislation could make Hong Kong residents vulnerable to vague national security charges and unfair trials.

Lam said Sunday's protest shows Hong Kong's enduring commitment to its people's freedoms. She denied that she is taking orders from the central government in China's capital.

"I have not received any instruction or mandate from Beijing to do this bill," she said. "We were doing it - and we are still doing it - out of our clear conscience, and our commitment to Hong Kong."

People of all ages took part in the march. Some pushed strollers while others walked with canes, and chanted slogans in favor of greater transparency in government.

The protest that stretched past midnight into Monday was largely peaceful, though there were a few scuffles with police as demonstrators broke through barriers at government headquarters and briefly pushed their way into the lobby. Police in riot gear used batons and tear gas to push the protesters outside.

Three officers and one journalist were injured, according to Hong Kong media reports.

There was a heavy police presence on downtown streets deep into the night.

Hong Kong currently limits extraditions to jurisdictions with which it has existing agreements or to others on an individual basis under a law passed before 1997. China was excluded because of concerns over its poor record on legal independence and human rights.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China firmly backs the proposed amendments and opposes "the wrong words and deeds of any external forces" that interfere in Hong Kong's affairs.

"Certain countries have made some irresponsible remarks" about the legislation, Geng said, without elaborating.

Lam was elected in 2017 by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing Hong Kong elites. Critics have accused her of ignoring widespread opposition to the extradition law amendments.

She said Monday that the bill seeks to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a haven for fugitives and is not focused on mainland China. Western democracies have accused Hong Kong of failing to address issues such as money laundering and terrorist financing, Lam said.

AP