World

HK leader refuses to scrap extradition bill, another protest called

Controversial plan will be debated despite huge protests, says Carrie Lam

HONG KONG: Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam yesterday refused to scrap a controversial plan to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland, a day after record crowds came out to oppose the proposal.

Striking a defiant tone after the city's largest protest since the 1997 handover, she said the legislature would debate the bill tomorrow as planned, rejecting calls to delay or withdraw the law.

The decision sets her administration on a collision course with opponents who decried her stance and called on supporters to rally outside parliament tomorrow or hold strikes.

"She's really pushing Hong Kong towards the brink of a precipice," pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo told reporters.

Sunday saw huge crowds march in blazing summer heat through the streets of the financial hub's main island in a noisy, colourful demonstration calling on the government to scrap its planned extradition law.

Organisers said as many as a million people turned out - the largest protest in three decades and the biggest by far since the city's return to Chinese rule.

Ms Lam's government is pushing a bill through the legislature that would allow extraditions to any jurisdiction with which it does not already have a treaty - including mainland China.

Authorities say it is needed to plug loopholes and to stop the city being a bolthole for fugitives.

But the proposals have birthed an opposition that unites a wide cross-section of the city, with critics fearing the law will entangle people in China's opaque and politicised courts.

In her first comments since the rallies, Ms Lam pushed back against calls to delay the law and said the huge rallies were proof Hong Kong's freedom of speech was still protected.

She said her administration had already made major concessions to ensure political cases would not be considered and that human rights safeguards met international standards.

"We have been listening and listening very attentively," she said.

But her words drew an incredulous response from opponents who accused her of ignoring massive public opposition.

"Yesterday 1.03 million of us marched and the government is still indifferent, turning a deaf ear to the people. This government has become a dictatorship," lawmaker Ip Kin Yuen said.

Political analyst Dixon Sing warned Ms Lam could be facing "political suicide" if she pushed for a showdown.

"In the short run, the Hong Kong government led by Carrie Lam will suffer a worsening legitimacy crisis," he said. "Fewer and fewer people will trust her and the entire cabinet." - AFP

WORLD