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Hong Kong leader suspends divisive extradition bill ahead of further protests

More mass protests are expected today, forcing politicians to consider putting the bill on hold to “cool citizens down”.

Updated Jun 15th 2019, 8:30 AM

Hong Kong Extradition Law Source: AP/PA Images

HONG KONG’S LEADER Carrie Lam has announced that an extradition bill will be suspended, following unprecedented clashes between police and protesters.

“After repeated internal deliberations over the last two days, the government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise,” chief executive Lam told reporters.

The city’s pro-Beijing leader has faced mounting calls to abandon the controversial legislation, including from her own political allies and advisers.

“I want to stress that the government is adopting an open mind,” she said. “We have no intention to set a deadline for this work.”

Lam said she would “adopt a sincere and humble attitude in accepting criticism” over the government’s handling of the issue.

Hong Kong has been rocked by the worst political violence since its 1997 handover to China on Wednesday as tens of thousands of protesters were dispersed by riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

As criticism mounted – and signs emerged of a growing discomfort among party leaders in Beijing – local media in Hong Kong reported that Lam’s administration was planning to announce some sort of climbdown as it tries to find its way out of the political crisis.

Police use force against anti extradition bill protesters in Hong Kong, China - 12 June 2019 Source: Chan Long Hei

She confirmed that the bill would be suspended during a press conference at 3pm (8am Irish time) – held at the same government complex that was besieged by protesters earlier in the week.

The SCMP said Lam held an emergency meeting last night with her advisers while Chinese officials were also meeting in the nearby city of Shenzhen to map a way out of the impasse.

Tensions are running high with protest organisers planning another mass rally tomorrow.

Protests In Hong Kong Over Extradition Bill Authorities stand on guard at the Legislative Council Complex after violent clashes between police and protesters. Source: Jinhee Lee

Lam, who is appointed by a committee stacked with Beijing loyalists, had up until now refused to abandon the bill despite months of criticism from business and legal bodies – and a record breaking rally tomorrow where organisers said more than one million protesters hit the streets.

‘Lost credibility’

But she found herself facing growing calls from within her own political camp to reverse course and tamp down spiralling public anger – including from hardline pro-Beijing lawmakers.

“Shouldn’t (we) cool the citizens down? I think to postpone it for a little bit is not a bad thing. At this moment, the government should self-examine,” Ann Chiang, a hardcore pro-Beijing lawmaker, told i-Cable News.

But others have warned against Lam bending to the protesters.

“If the government caves in to violence and external influences, in the long run that would also make Hong Kong ungovernable,” pro-Beijing lawmaker Regina Ip told reporters.

Protest organisers have said they will only accept a full withdrawal of the bill, not a postponement.

James To, a lawmaker from the city’s pan-democrat camp, called on Lam to step down.

“The credibility of our chief executive has already been written off, it’s a kind of government that cannot have any credibility to rule anymore,” he told reporters.

Anti extradition law protest in Hong Kong, China - 12 June 2019 Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Beijing has vocally supported the bill and earlier this week threw its full support behind the Lam administration, calling protesters “rioters”.

But it has since sought to distance itself as public anger spiralled.

“The central government gave no instruction, no order about the… amendment,” Lu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to Britain, told the BBC.

This amendment was initiated by the Hong Kong government.

Last night, thousands of parents gathered in a park in the heart of the city’s commercial district to condemn the use of rubber bullets and tear gas against predominantly young protesters on Wednesday.

Y. Chan, a 50-year-old mother of two, said she was outraged watching the scenes unfold.

“It’s calling for all mothers who had enough already of what happened the other day,” she told AFP. “My kids were out there also that day. And although I want them to be safe, want them to be at home, but this is their home. They are defending it.”

© – AFP 2019

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