Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam apologised on Sunday for tying to pass a law that would allow extraditions to China as hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets for the second weekend in a row.
Huge crowds dressed in black called for Ms Lam's resignation, despite the leader's promise on Saturday to pause work on the divisive bill.
In a statement from her office she commended the protesters for remaining peaceful in line with Hong Kong's "spirit of mutual respect and harmony" and said that the government had misjudged the mood.
"The chief executive admitted that shortcomings in the government's work has led to a lot of conflict and disputes in Hong Kong society and has disappointed and distressed many citizens," the statement said, agencies reported.
"The chief executive apologises to the citizens and promises to accept criticism with the most sincere and humble attitude."
Ms Lam stopped short of scrapping the bill entirely, but the statement said that there is no timetable for restarting work on the legal revision.
Protest leaders rejected the apology, calling on Ms Lam to shelve the bill entirely and apologise for police use of tear gas and rubber bullets during earlier protests.
Nearly 80 people were injured in last week's unrest, which began with a record-breaking protest last Sunday. In a major demonstration on Wednesday, tens of thousands of protesters were dispersed by baton-wielding riot police.
Many placards in the crowd on Sunday accused police of using excessive force.
One man died late on Saturday when he fell from a building while protesting, with many of Sunday's demonstrators holding white flowers to mourn him.
For the last decade the city has been caught between the pro-Beijing authorities and opponents who fear China is stamping on its unique freedoms and culture, enjoyed since the handover from the United Kingdom in 1997.
Critics of the proposed extradition bill, which is backed by Beijing, fear it will entangle people in China's notoriously opaque courts and damage the city's reputation as a safe business hub. Opposition to it has united an unusually wide cross-section of Hong Kong, from legal bodies to religious leaders.
The government argued the bill would "plug the loopholes" so that the city would not be a safe haven for criminals.
Ms Lam's decision to ignore advice and until this weekend press ahead with it, even after last Sunday's massive rally, has placed her administration under pressure from both her opponents and allies.