Hong Kong leader pulls extradition bill; too little too late, some say

PROTEST: Riot police officers search people and their belongings after an anti-extradition bill protest at Po Lam Mass Transit Railway station in Hong Kong, China, Sept. 5. Tyrone Siu/Reuters

HONG KONG – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Wednesday withdrew an extradition bill that triggered months of often violent protests so the Chinese-ruled city can move forward from a “highly vulnerable and dangerous” place and find solutions.

Her televised announcement came after Reuters reports on Friday and Monday revealing Beijing thwarted an earlier proposal from Lam to withdraw the bill and she had said privately that she would resign if she could.

“Lingering violence is damaging the very foundations of our society, especially the rule of law,” a somber Lam said as she sat wearing a navy blue jacket and pink shirt with her hands folded on a desk.

It was not clear when the recording was made. The withdrawal needs the approval of the Legislative Council, which is not expected to oppose Lam.

The bill would have allowed extraditions to mainland China where courts are controlled by the Communist Party. Its withdrawal is a key demand of protesters but just one of five. The move came after pitched battles across the former British colony of 7 million. More than 1,000 protesters were arrested.

Many are furious about perceived police brutality and the number of arrests and want an independent inquiry.

“The government will formally withdraw the bill in order to fully allay public concerns,” Lam said.

“I pledge that the government will seriously follow up the recommendations of the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Council) report. From this month, I and my principal officials will reach out to the community to start a direct dialogue ... we must find ways to address the discontent in society and look for solutions.”

The protests began in March but snowballed in June and have evolved into a push for greater democracy for the city which returned to China in 1997. It was not clear if killing the bill would help end the unrest. The immediate reaction appeared skeptical.

'Five demands, not one missing'

Some lawmakers said the move should have come earlier.

“The damage has been done. The scars and wounds are still bleeding,” said pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo. “She thinks she can use a garden hose to put out a hill fire. That’s not going to be acceptable.”

Many people on street corners after nightfall were shouting: “Five demands, not one missing.”

“We still have four other demands. We hope people won’t forget that,” said a woman speaking for the protest movement who declined to identify herself except by the surname Chan. “The mobilization power won’t decrease.”

Riot police fired beanbag guns and used pepper spray on Tuesday to clear demonstrators from outside the Mong Kok police station and in Prince Edward metro station, with one man taken out on a stretcher with an oxygen mask over his face, television footage showed.

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