#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 12°C Friday 14 May 2021
Advertisement

Hong Kong leader apologises for handling of extradition bill

Lam’s apology fell short of protester demands that she resign.

Protesters displaying placards which reads
Protesters displaying placards which reads "Stop killing us" during yesterday's demonstration
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

EMBATTLED HONG KONG leader Carrie Lam has apologised for the way her administration tried to pass a law allowing extraditions to China, the cause of unprecedented protests and clashes this week. 

“The chief executive admitted that shortcomings in the government’s work has lead to a lot of conflict and disputes in Hong Kong society and has disappointed and distressed many citizens,” a statement from her office said yesterday. 

“The chief executive apologises to the citizens and promises to accept criticism with the most sincere and humble attitude,” it added.

Protesters snaked their way for miles through the streets to the city’s parliament – with the organisers’ estimate for the crowd size doubling an already record-breaking demonstration the previous Sunday in the city of 7.3 million.

The estimate has not been independently verified but if confirmed it would be the largest demonstration in Hong Kong’s history. 

Hong Kong’s biggest protest to date was a massive rally in support of Tiananmen protesters in May 1989, before Beijing’s deadly crackdown, which sources at the time put at roughly 1.5 million strong.

Police, who historically give far lower estimates for political protests, said 338,000 people turned out at the demonstration’s “peak” Sunday.

Thousands were camping out overnight to continue the protest, including outside the legislature, with the police seemingly ceding the streets to the jubilant masses.

CHINA-HONG KONG-HKSAR CHIEF EXECUTIVE-FUGITIVE LAW AMENDMENTS-SUSPENSION (CN) Chief Executive Carrie Lam Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Hong Kong Extradition Law Protesters who camped out overnight take a rest along a main road near the Legislative Council after continuing protest against the extradition bill Source: Vincent Yu via PA Images

Critics fear the Beijing-backed law will entangle people in China’s notoriously opaque and politicised courts and damage the city’s reputation as a safe business hub.

Lam’s office put out a statement late Sunday admitting that shortcomings in how her administration handled the law had “led to a lot of conflict and disputes” and “disappointed and distressed many citizens”.

It came a day after she announced she would postpone the law indefinitely.

But it fell well short of protester demands that she resign, shelve the bill permanently and apologise for police using tear gas and rubber bullets earlier in the week.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which is organising the rallies, said Hong Kongers would protest and strike on Monday “until their voices are heard”.

UPI 20190616 Hong Kong citizens take part in a massive protest aimed at an extradition bill proposed by the pro-Beijing government on the streets of downtown Hong Kong on 16 June Source: UPI/PA Images

Hong Kong Extradition Law Tens of thousands of protesters carry posters and banners march through the streets Source: AP/PA Images

Hong Kong Extradition Law A poster of Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam is seen after yesterday's march Source: Vincent Yu via PA Images

Anger at police

Hong Kong’s international finance hub was rocked Wednesday by the worst political violence in decades as protesters were dispersed by baton-wielding riot police.

Many accused the police of using excessive force, and anger was further fanned by authorities calling the largely young protesters “rioters”.

Nearly 80 people were injured in the unrest – including 22 police officers.

Police said they had no choice but to use force to meet violent protesters who besieged their lines outside the city’s parliament.

But critics – including legal and rights groups – say officers used the violent actions of a tiny group of protesters as an excuse to unleash a sweeping crackdown on the predominantly young, peaceful crowd.

One man died Saturday when he fell from a building where he had been holding an hours-long anti-extradition protest.

He had unfurled a banner on scaffolding attached to an upscale mall, but fell when rescuers tried to haul him in. Police said they suspected the 35-year-old was suicidal.

Throughout the day, demonstrators queued for hours to leave flowers and tributes where he fell.

Hong Kong Extradition Law Mourners stop by a makeshift memorial, to lay flowers and pray for a man who fell to his death on Saturday Source: Kin Cheung via PA images

Anti extradition bill and anti government demonstration in Hong Kong - 16 June 2019 Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

For the last decade Hong Kong has been convulsed by political turbulence between pro-Beijing authorities and opponents who fear an increasingly assertive China is stamping on the city’s unique freedoms and culture enjoyed since the handover from Britain in 1997.

Opposition to the extradition bill has united an unusually wide cross-section of Hong Kong, from influential legal and business bodies to religious leaders.

Lam’s decision to ignore those warnings and press ahead with the bill even after last weekend’s massive rally placed her administration under pressure from both opponents and allies.

Advisers and pro-establishment lawmakers urged her to delay the bill after Wednesday’s violence, while Beijing began to distance itself from her administration.

Her climbdown is a rare example of the city’s unelected leaders caving-in to demonstrations – something more recent administrations have been increasingly unwilling to do.

Two months of protests in 2014 calling for the right to directly elect Hong Kong’s leader won no concessions from Beijing, and key figures from that movement are now in jail.

One of that movement’s most prominent leaders, 22-year-old activist Joshua Wong, is due to be released from prison this morning, his party said late Sunday.

It was not clear whether his early release was a gesture from the authorities or merely typical procedure under provisions for good behaviour.

‘She has lost the public‘ 

“Her response is purely a PR strategy,” 20-year-old protester Vivian Liu told AFP after Lam’s statement.

And to define our protests as a riot is totally inappropriate.

“Personally I think she can no longer govern Hong Kong, she has lost the public,” added Dave Wong, a 38-year-old protester who works in finance.

In mainland China, the internet was scrubbed clean of references to the massive rally, with entries for Hong Kong on search engines and social media platforms showing no sign of the demonstration.

The latest protest did not, however, go unnoticed in Washington, where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said President Donald Trump would discuss the events with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the G20 summit later this month.

“We are watching the people of Hong Kong speak about the things they value,” Pompeo said.

© – AFP 2019

About the author:

AFP

Read next:

COMMENTS (22)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel