HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s leader told lawmakers Wednesday she will permanently shelve an extradition bill that triggered three months of pro-democracy protests, a politician who was in the briefing told Agence France-Presse.
Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, told a group of pro-Beijing lawmakers on Wednesday afternoon that she would withdraw the legislation, Felix Chung said.
“It is confirmed that the bill will be withdrawn,” Chung told Agence France-Presse as he recounted Lam’s comments in the meeting.
Withdrawing the bill is one of the five key demands of protesters, who have taken to the streets in their millions in the biggest challenge to China’s rule of Hong Kong since its handover from the British in 1997.
Initial reports in the local media raised hopes that giving in to the extradition demand could help end the crisis.
Hong Kong’s stock market climbed nearly four percent in afternoon trade after the reports emerged.
But those hopes were quickly tempered, with pro-democracy activists voicing anger and determination to press on with their broader democracy campaign.
“Too little, too late,” said Joshua Wong, a prominent activist who was arrested late last week as part of a police swoop of leading pro-democracy figures.
“We urge the world too to (be) alert this tactic and not to be deceived by HK and Beijing Govt. They have conceded nothing in fact, and a full-scale clampdown is on the way.”
The protests began as opposition to efforts by Lam’s government to introduce the legislation that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China.
After millions of people took to the streets, Lam suspended efforts to have the legislation passed but infuriated protesters by repeatedly refusing to formally withdraw it.
The movement also evolved into a much broader campaign to include demands for an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality against the protesters, and an amnesty for those arrested.
Another demand is for Hong Kongers to be able to directly elect their leaders — a major red line for Beijing that allows the city a limited degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” framework.
Online message forums used by the largely leaderless democracy movement were on Wednesday filled with angry comments saying a withdrawal of the bill would not end the protests.
“More than 1,000 people have been arrested, countless injured,” one widely shared message on the Telegram messaging app read.
“Five major demands, not one less. Liberate HK, revolution now,” it added.
For much of the last three months Lam has struck a defiant tone, appearing either unwilling or unable to make any concessions.
Then an audio recording emerged this week of her telling business leaders she wanted to quit but she was hamstrung by Beijing, which now viewed the protests as a national security and sovereignty issue.
In the audio recording, obtained by the Reuters news agency, Lam said she wanted to take responsibility for triggering the unrest with the extradition plans.
“For a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable,” an emotional Lam said in the audio recording.
“If I have a choice,” she said, speaking in English, “the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology.”
But after the audio recording was released, Lam held a press conference on Tuesday to insist she had never contemplated resigning.