HONG KONG - Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam offered her personal apology to every Hong Konger for her inadequacies in handling the extradition Bill saga, saying the incident has made her realise she needs to do better, to hear people out and to work harder to balance the view of the people.
Mrs Lam told a press conference, which started at 4pm on Tuesday (June 18) and lasted for nearly an hour, that she will not restart the legislative process of the extradition Bill as long as the conflict in society is not resolved.
“I have heard you loud and clear and have reflected deeply on what has transpired,” Mrs Lam said.
“I personally have to shoulder most of the responsibility… I offer my most sincere apology to all the people of Hong Kong,” she said.
Mrs Lam, who wore an off-white suit, said she is saddened by the fact that some people were injured in the protests.
I WANT ANOTHER CHANCE: LAM
In a sign that Mrs Lam will not step down, she said that she and her team will work doubly hard in the next three years. She said she wants another chance to deliver initiatives to improve Hong Kong's economy.
On whether her administration has become a lame-duck one, Mrs Lam said: “We have a lot of social and economic issues that we have committed to... we would try our very best to rebuild that trust.”
When asked if government accountability no longer works, since no one has stepped down to take responsibility over the matter so far, Mrs Lam said: “I hope people from all walks of life would recognise our work and give us an opportunity."
Outside the Legislative Council (Legco) building, some protesters were watching her speech live on their iPads and mobile phones, jeering and booing whenever she said something they disagreed with.
THOSE WHO PARTICIPATED IN EVENT PEACEFULLY NEED NOT WORRY: LAM
Asked if she regarded the clashes on Wednesday (June 12) as “riot”, Mrs Lam said the government has never considered the participants, particularly the young students, as rioters.
She added that those who participated in the event peacefully would “have nothing to worry about”.
"To those young people who had participated peacefully, to express their views, let me say, I understand you expect your Chief Executive to listen to different voices and to respect and care for young people," she said.
"Connecting with young people was one of my commitments in the election manifesto, I know that we all want Hong Kong to be a caring and well-governed society with hope. I know you have different concerns and views about social issues, yet, we share the same passion for Hong Kong," she added.
Mrs Lam does not, however, state clearly on whether the government will launch an independent probe into the police’s use of force at Wednesday's protest. She also did not rule out that some arrested protesters will be charged with rioting.
Late on Tuesday (June 18) night, eight of the 32 protesters arrested were unconditionally released.
When asked if she will meet protesters, the Chief Executive said she has been meeting people from various sectors over the past few days, and that there will be opportunities to talk to young people.
LAM ANNOUNCED ON SATURDAY EXTRADITION BILL IS SUSPENDED
Mrs Lam has come under intense pressure over her handling of the Bill, which she had been trying to push through the legislature. The Bill contains amendments to an existing law that many see as another sign of Beijing's creeping erosion of Hong Kong's rights and freedoms.
Anger over the Bill has fuelled massive protests, which spilled over into violent clashes with police last week. Protesters have criticised what they call the police's heavy-handed actions and have called on Mrs Lam to quit.
Last Saturday, she apologised for the way the government had handled the draft law and said the Bill would be shelved for now.
Protesters felt that was not enough and launched the largest protest to date on Sunday, with organisers saying around two million participated in a march that surrounded the government's central office complex in Admiralty.
The central office complex reopened on Tuesday. A smaller protest continued on Monday around the complex but had ended by Tuesday.
In an editorial on Tuesday, the pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao said of the move to apologise: "This is a very humble and serious attitude, showing moral courage and responsibility."
Protesters who are members of four Telegram chat groups issued a joint statement on Tuesday calling on Mrs Lam and her government to respond to their demands by 5pm on Thursday or face an escalation of action. The demands include scrapping the Bill for good, releasing all detained protesters, retracting police accusations of rioting and punishing police for abuse of power.
Thousands surrounded the legislature building last Wednesday (June 12), preventing lawmakers from accessing the building to discuss the Bill.
But the protest quickly escalated to clashes with the police, who resorted to firing rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd.
In a bid to diffuse escalating tensions, police chief Stephen Lo on Monday clarified his earlier comments on rioting, saying they apply only to "the behaviour displayed by some protesters" who threw bricks or metal poles at officers.
Rioting carries a heavier penalty.