World

HK leader Lam formally withdraws extradition Bill

Move meets one key demand of protesters, but immediate reaction is sceptical

HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam yesterday withdrew an extradition Bill that triggered months of often violent protests so the city can move forward from a "highly vulnerable and dangerous" place and find solutions.

"Lingering violence is damaging the very foundations of our society, especially the rule of law," Mrs Lam said in a speech.

The withdrawal, a key demand of protesters, came after unrest that drove the former British colony to the edge of anarchy as the government repeatedly refused to back down - igniting pitched battles across the city of over seven million, the arrests of more than 1,000 protesters and leaving a society deeply divided.

Many are furious at perceived police brutality and the number of arrests - 1,183 at the latest count - and want an independent inquiry. The police have repeatedly denied using excessive force.

"The government will formally withdraw the Bill in order to fully allay public concerns," Mrs Lam said.

"I pledge that the government will seriously follow up the recommendations of the IPCC's (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 since evolved into a push for greater democracy for the city, which returned to China in 1997.

The Bill would have allowed extraditions to China where courts are controlled by the Communist Party.

It was not immediately clear if the Bill's withdrawal would help end the unrest.

The immediate reaction appeared sceptical, and the real test will be how many people take to the streets. 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 is not going to be acceptable."

Said Mr Boris Chen, 37, who works in financial services: "This won't appease the protesters. In any kind of time, people will find something they can get angry about."

Mr Joshua Wong, a leader of the 2014 pro-democracy protests that were the precursor to the current unrest, said on his Facebook page it was "too little, too late".

Hong Kong's benchmark Hang Seng Index jumped after the report of the Bill's imminent withdrawal, trading up about 4 per cent. The property index also jumped.

Mrs Lam had said before that the Bill was "dead", but she did not withdraw it.

The protesters' other four demands are: the retraction of the word "riot" to describe rallies, the release of all arrested demonstrators, an independent inquiry into the perceived police brutality and the right for Hong Kong people to democratically choose their own leaders.

UNREST

The unrest has shown no sign of easing. Riot police fired beanbag guns and used pepper spray - both anti-riot weapons - to clear demonstrators from outside the Mong Kok police station overnight, Hong Kong media reported yesterday.

They also cleared demonstrators from Prince Edward metro station, with one man taken out on a stretcher with an oxygen mask over his face, television footage showed. - REUTERS

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