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Hong Kong leader apologises for extradition crisis but refuses to resign

Hong Kong Leader Carrie Sham apologised at a press conference today.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference at the Legislative Council today.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference at the Legislative Council today.
Image: Vincent Yu/AP/Press Association Images

HONG KONG LEADER Carrie Lam apologised today for the political unrest that has shaken Hong Kong, but refused to bow to demands for her resignation.

Millions of people have taken to the streets in recent days to demand the withdrawal of proposed legislation that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

Lam suspended the bill on Saturday following two massive rallies that saw clashes between the police and some protesters.

On Sunday a rally drew over two million people, organisers said – more than a quarter of the population in a city of 7.3 million. 

“I personally have to shoulder much of the responsibility. This has led to controversies, disputes and anxieties in society,” Lam told a press conference today.

“For this I offer my most sincere apology to all people of Hong Kong.”

Activists have demanded the bill be withdrawn fully, for Lam to step down, and for police to be investigated for using tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters. 

They have also asked for all charges to be dropped against anyone detained during the protests.

Lam did not indicate that she would step down. She said she wanted to “continue to work very hard… to meet the aspirations of the Hong Kong people”.

However, she did seem to suggest that the extradition bill was unlikely to be revived given the public sentiment.

“I will not proceed again with this legislative exercise if these fears and anxieties could not be adequately addressed,” she said.

“If the bill… (does) not make the legislative council by July next year, it will expire… and the government will accept that reality.”

Next steps

Protest organisers remained critical. “Her attitude is arrogant,” said Jimmy Sham of the Civil Human Rights Front, an umbrella organisation of various groups participating in the protests.

Sham said organisers will now convene to decide on their next steps.

The latest press conference will do little to ease the pressure on Lam, said political analyst Dixon Sing.

Hong Kong Protests Pro-democracy activists remained critical of Lam today. Source: Kin Cheung/AP/Press Association Images

“It’s really difficult for her to govern,” said Sing. “Especially if she wants to bring in any more controversial policies that might need public support.”

Lam has been criticised by opponents – and even by pro-Beijing legislators – for the handling of the protests.

Joshua Wong, a leading Hong Kong activist who became the face of the 2014 protests, predicted more demonstrations.

“If one million people come out to the street and it just results in suspension, and two million people come out and (there is) just an apology, that is not sincere at all,” he said.

“How many people will come out to the streets again?”

Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unknown in mainland China under the terms of its 1997 handover from Britain to China. However, many residents fear that these freedoms are being slowly eroded. 

The Chinese government had supported the extradition proposal, and accused protest organisers of colluding with Western governments.

But Beijing said after the bill’s suspension last week that it respected and understood the Hong Kong government’s decision.

Protest leaders and Lam’s opponents in the Hong Kong legislature remain wary, however.

“The people are still mad as hell,” said Ray Chan, an opposition lawmaker.

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