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Hong Kong leader suspends extradition bill after huge protests

By AFP
June 16, 2019

HONG KONG: Hong Kong´s embattled leader on Saturday suspended a hugely divisive bill that would allow extraditions to China in a major climbdown after a week of unprecedented protests and political unrest.

The international finance hub was 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.

Those clashes came three days after chief executive Carrie Lam refused to be budged by a record-breaking rally in which organisers said more than a million people marched through the streets calling for the bill to be scrapped.

After days of mounting pressure, including from her own allies, Lam relented on Saturday, announcing that work on the bill would be halted with no deadline set for its introduction.

The decision is a rare concession from the city´s pro-Beijing leaders who have successfully faced down demands from pro-democracy demonstrators in recent years.

But opponents said it did not go far enough and vowed to press ahead with a planned mass rally on Sunday.

Lam, who is appointed by a committee stacked with Beijing loyalists, said she had no plans to step down, and defended the need to overhaul the city´s extradition laws and retained the support of China´s central government. But she admitted her team had misjudged the public mood.

"I feel deep sorrow and regret that the deficiencies in our work and various other factors have stirred up substantial controversies and disputes in society following the relatively calm periods of the past two years," she said.

Protest organisers said they would only accept a complete scrapping of the bill and a promise not to reintroduce it to the city´s parliament. "Carrie Lam has lost all credibility amongst the Hong Kong people, she must step down," pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo told reporters. "She stays on, we stay on," Mo added, referencing the planned protest. Jason Ng, from the Progressive Lawyers Group, said Lam´s announcement "fell short" of protester demands.