04 September 2019 | Staff | Straits Times
HONG KONG – Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Wednesday (Sept 4) formally withdrew a contentious extradition Bill following months of protests.
“The government will formally withdraw the Bill in order to fully allay public concerns,” she said in a pre-recorded address in Cantonese and English that was carried by all major broadcasters in Hong Kong.
Mrs Lam said a motion to withdraw will be tabled when the Legislative Council reconvenes.
Although Mrs Lam had previously suspended the Bill – saying it was “dead” – her move did little to appease demonstrators, who continued protesting and expanded their demands to include calls for greater democratic freedom. Without the Bill’s formal withdrawal, it could be reintroduced in a matter of days.
This essentially responds to one of five demands protesters have asked for. The others are: the retraction of the word “riot” to describe rallies; the release of all arrested demonstrators; an independent inquiry into the police; and the right for Hong Kongers to democratically choose their own leaders.
While she ruled out setting up an independent commission to look into the events that have led to recent mass protests, she said that the Independent Police Complaints Commission will be reinforced by former director of education Helen Yu and senior lawyer Paul Lam.
The announcement follows a meeting with pro-establishment political figures, the South China Morning Post newspaper and other media reported, citing people they did not identify. The gathering included local legislators and the city’s representatives to national legislative bodies.
It came after a weekend of demonstrations that saw some of the fiercest clashes between protesters and riot police. Activists have lobbed petrol bombs and set bonfires in the streets, while police officers fired tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray, making more than 1,100 arrests since early June.
Hong Kong stocks jumped, led by property developers, after news reports said Mrs Lam will formally withdraw the extradition Bill. The benchmark Hang Seng Index surged as much as 3.9 per cent before paring gains to 3.4 per cent at 3.06pm local time.
The turmoil that followed Mrs Lam’s attempt to introduce the ill-fated Bill – including mass marches that drew more than one million people and protests that shut the city’s busy airport – has turned into the biggest crisis for Beijing’s rule over the former British colony since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.