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Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says she will withdraw controversial extradition bill

Withdrawing the bill is a key demands of protesters who have taken to the streets in their millions in recent weeks.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

HONG KONG’S EMBATTLED pro-Beijing leader has announced she will permanently shelve a loathed extradition bill that sparked three months of pro-democracy protests which have plunged the city into crisis.

“The government will formally withdraw the bill in order to fully allay public concerns,” chief executive Carrie Lam said in a video statement released via her office.

Withdrawing the bill is one of the five key demands of protesters, who have taken to the streets in their millions in the biggest challenge to China’s rule of Hong Kong since its handover from the British in 1997. 

The protests began as opposition to efforts by Lam’s government to introduce the legislation that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China.

After millions of people took to the streets, Lam suspended efforts to have the legislation passed but infuriated protesters by repeatedly refusing to formally withdraw it.

The movement also evolved into a much broader campaign to include demands for an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality against the protesters, and an amnesty for those arrested.

Another demand is for Hong Kongers to be able to directly elect their leaders – a major red line for Beijing that allows the city a limited degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” framework.

Protester anger

Online message forums used by the largely leaderless democracy movement were on today filled with angry comments saying a withdrawal of the bill would not end the protests. 

“More than 1,000 people have been arrested, countless injured,” one widely shared message on the Telegram messaging app read.

“Five major demands, not one less. Liberate HK, revolution now,” it added.

For much of the last three months Lam has struck a defiant tone, appearing either unwilling or unable to make any concessions.

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Then an audio recording emerged this week of her telling business leaders she wanted to quit but she was hamstrung by Beijing, which now viewed the protests as a national security and sovereignty issue.

In the audio recording, obtained by the Reuters news agency, Lam said she wanted to take responsibility for triggering the unrest with the extradition plans.

“For a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable,” an emotional Lam said in the audio recording.

“If I have a choice,” she said, speaking in English, “the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology”.

But after the audio recording was released, Lam held a press conference yesterday to insist she had never contemplated resigning.

Includes reporting by - © AFP 2019

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