HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Thursday (Sept 5) that her decision to scrap the extradition legislation was only the "first step" to addressing the city’s unrest, after protesters said the Chief Executive’s concessions fell short of their demands.
Mrs Lam told a news conference that her decision to formally withdraw the controversial Bill allowing extraditions to China, and other moves, would only be the "first step to break the deadlock in society". The legislation sparked almost three months of protests and its withdrawal has been a key demand of demonstrators who were engaged in increasingly violent clashes with police.
Denying she changed her mind, Mrs Lam said the decision to withdraw the Bill was hers with the support of Beijing.
"The Bill was introduced and initiated by HK SAR (Special Administrative Region) Government, but throughout the whole process, the Central Government took the position that they knew why I was doing it and supported me to do it," she said.
Mrs Lam also promised to examine underlying causes for the unrest that extend beyond the Bill.
Pro-democracy activists and lawmakers have dismissed Mrs Lam’s concessions as "too little, too late" and still want their remaining key demands met, including an independent inquiry into police’s use of force, as well as a push to nominate and elect their own leaders - a proposal Beijing has ruled out.
The protesters’ next moves will telegraph whether Mrs Lam and her backers on the mainland bet correctly that conceding on the Bill’s withdrawal will calm the movement after months of outcry over Beijing’s increasing grip over the city. Students and other groups staged small peaceful protests on Thursday morning to express disappointment with Mrs Lam’s speech.
In a pre-recorded televised message on Wednesday, the Hong Kong leader formally withdrew the Bill, acceding to one of the pro-democracy protesters’ five demands.
The official China Daily said on Thursday that the withdrawal of the Bill was an olive branch that leaves demonstrators with no excuse to continue violence. It called the decision "a sincere and earnest response to the voice of the community".
The announcement came after Reuters reports last Friday and on Monday revealed that Beijing had thwarted Mrs Lam’s earlier proposals to withdraw the Bill and that she had said privately that she would resign if she could, according to an audio recording obtained by Reuters.
Skirmishes broke out in some districts late on Wednesday after Mrs Lam’s announcement, which came after a weekend of some of the most violent protests the city has seen in the past three months.
Police said a suspected petrol bomb was hurled at a luxury property in Kowloon district in the early hours of Thursday and the suspects fled on a motorbike. Local newspaper Apple Daily said the house belonged to Mr Jimmy Lai, who was in the property at the time. Pro-democracy publishing tycoon Lai is an outspoken critic of Beijing.
MTR WORKERS' UNIONS APPEAL FOR MORE POLICE PROTECTION
Workers’ unions at the rail operator MTR Corporation on Thursday (Sept 5) urged the government to deploy extra police at every station to protect staff, after an off-duty supervisor at Po Lam station was attacked by anti-government protesters in the morning.
Police had to rescue the man who was later hospitalised.
There has been mounting anger among protesters against MTR Corp, which they have accused of siding with police during the unrest.
The Asian financial hub has been roiled by some of the worst violence in decades, with protesters burning barricades and throwing petrol bombs, and police retaliating with water cannon, tear gas and batons.
The Bill, which would have allowed people in the city to be sent to China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, was viewed as the latest example of what many residents see as ever-tighter control by Beijing, despite the promise of autonomy.
The former British colony was handed back to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” administration which gave the city of more than seven million people more freedoms than mainland cities, such as an independent judiciary.
China denies meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs and accuses Western countries of fuelling the protests.
Images of some of the fiercest clashes have been beamed live to the world on television screens, sending jitters across the international business community and leading to a large drop in tourism.
On Thursday, the Hong Kong government took out a full-page advert in the Australian Financial Review, saying it is “determined to achieve a peaceful, rational and reasonable resolution” and is resolutely committed to “one country, two systems”. It ends the advert by saying: “We will no doubt bounce back. We always do.”
More than 1,100 people have been arrested since the violence escalated in June, and Hong Kong is facing its first recession in a decade.
China has strongly denounced the violence and warned it could use force to restore order. Beijing is eager to quell the unrest before the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct 1.
Mrs Lam, wearing a navy blue blazer and pink top, said in her televised message that her administration would reach out to the community to start a dialogue to address the discontent, with the foremost priority now being to end violence, to safeguard the rule of law and to restore order and safety in society.