Hong Kong's Carrie Lam withdraws extradition bill that sparked protests

The protests in the former British colony began in June over the bill, which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China

Demonstrators gather during a strike rally at Tamar Park in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, September 3, 2019. Bloomberg
Demonstrators gather during a strike rally at Tamar Park in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, September 3, 2019. Bloomberg

Hong Kong’s government announced on Wednesday that it will withdraw the controversial extradition bill that sparked months of protests and plunged the global financial hub into crisis.

The controversial bill would allow Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China for trials, but it was suspended after huge protests began in June. The move barely satisfied protesters, however, who demanded that it is withdrawn entirely.

Without no formal withdrawal of the bill, it could be reintroduced in a matter of days.

There are no scheduled media appearances for Ms Lam, but she released a video statement via her office.

In a message that was markedly more conciliatory in tone than her more recent statements, Ms Lam appealed for protesters to abandon violence and to embrace a "dialogue" with the government.

"Let's replace conflicts with conversations and let's look for solutions," she said.

"We must find ways to address the discontent in society and to look for solutions," she added.

In her message, Ms Lam confirmed the bill would be withdrawn once parliament reopens in October.

She also announced plans to hold a dialogue so people could "share their views and air their grievances" as well as plans to commission academics, advisers and professionals "to independently examine and review society's deep-seated problems and advise the government on finding solutions".

The meeting follows another weekend of demonstrations that saw some of the fiercest clashes between protesters and riot police. Activists have lobbed petrol bombs and set bonfires in the streets, while police officers fired tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray, making more than 1,100 arrests since early June.

With mass marches that have drawn more than one million people, the protests have turned into the biggest crisis for Beijing’s rule over the former British colony since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Aggressive police tactics, threats by Beijing to deploy troops and sweeping arrests of pro-democracy figures have raised fears about Hong Kong’s autonomy and drawn international condemnation.

Ms Lam also warned protesters that ongoing violence and challenges to Beijing's authority were placing Hong Kong in a "vulnerable and dangerous" position – a reference to increasingly shrill threats from the authoritarian mainland.

"Our foremost priority now is to end violence, to safeguard the rule of law and to restore order and safety in society," she warned.

It is not clear whether the formal withdrawal will end the protests. The action was only one of five main demands, which also include calls for an independent inquiry into police violence, an amnesty for those who have been arrested and universal suffrage.

On Tuesday, Ms Lam addressed a Reuters report of a leaked audio recording in which she said she had “very, very, very limited” room to meet the demands of protesters and would quit “if I had the choice.” Speaking to reporters, she said she had “not even contemplated to discuss a resignation with the central people’s government".

Meanwhile, Chinese officials overseeing Hong Kong softened their tone towards the city’s protesters, saying peaceful demonstrations were allowed under the law, even as it ruled out a fundamental demand for direct democracy that has fuelled the unrest. They also reaffirmed support for Lam and her government.

Updated: September 4, 2019 03:19 PM

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