HONG KONG, June 15: Hong Kong’s embattled leader on Saturday said a divisive bill that would allow extraditions to China would be “suspended” in a major climbdown from her government after a week of unprecedented protests.
The city’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam has come under huge pressure to abandon the controversial legislation, including from her own political allies and advisers.
“The government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise, restart our communication with all sectors of society, do more… work and listen to different views of society,” Lam told reporters Saturday.
“We have no intention to set a deadline for this work and promise to report to and consult members of the legislative council panel on security before we decide on the next step forward.”
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.
As criticism mounted, signs also emerged of a growing discomfort among Communist Party leaders in Beijing, and Lam held her press conference Saturday at the same government complex that was besieged by protesters earlier in the week.
The South China Morning Post said Lam held an emergency meeting on Friday night with her advisers while Chinese officials were also meeting in the nearby city of Shenzhen to map a way out of the impasse.
Tensions were running high with protest organisers planning another mass rally on Sunday.
Lam, who is appointed by a committee stacked with Beijing loyalists, had previously refused to consider abandoning the bill, despite months of criticism from business and legal bodies — and a record breaking rally on Sunday where organisers said more than one million protesters hit the streets.
“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,” Lam said.
On Friday she found herself facing growing calls from within her own political camp to reverse course and tamp down spiralling public anger — including from hardline pro-Beijing lawmakers.
“Shouldn’t (we) cool the citizens down? I think to postpone it for a little bit is not a bad thing. At this moment, the government should self-examine,” Ann Chiang, a hardcore pro-Beijing lawmaker, told i-Cable News.
But others have warned against Lam bending to the protesters.
“If the government caves in to violence and external influences, in the long run that would also make Hong Kong ungovernable,” pro-Beijing lawmaker Regina Ip told reporters.
Opposition to the extradition bill has united an unusually wide cross section of Hong Kong (Agencies)