The coalition behind the huge protests in Hong Kong against an extradition Bill has demanded that Chief Executive Carrie Lam step down, after she admitted to "inadequacies" when announcing yesterday that the government would suspend the highly divisive legislation indefinitely.
She pledged to communicate better with the people, but stopped short of apologising for the manner in which last Wednesday's violent clashes between protesters and the police were handled. More than 80 people were injured and over 20 arrested following the clashes.
Her comments were blasted immediately by the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), a coalition comprising pro-democracy lawmakers and activists, which has been at the forefront of opposition to the legislation.
It demanded that she step down, withdraw the Bill and retract the labelling of Wednesday's protest as a "riot", all of which Mrs Lam ignored.
During a briefing at government headquarters in Admiralty, Mrs Lam stressed that "the original purposes of the exercise (extradition Bill) stems from my and my team's passion for Hong Kong and our empathy for Hong Kong people".
"Because of our inadequacies, we caused huge conflict in Hong Kong," she told reporters. "We will adopt the most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and making improvements, so that we can continue to connect with the people of Hong Kong," she added.
Mrs Lam dodged the question on whether she would step down , except to say that she "feels saddened and regretful to have stirred up social conflict".
If passed into law, the extradition Bill would have created a legal mechanism allowing criminals to be extradited to several countries, including mainland China. But fears persisted that Beijing could use this against political dissidents and activists despite official assurances that sufficient safeguards had been built into the legislation to prevent this.
The Hong Kong government has also insisted that the Bill was necessary to prevent the territory from becoming a safe haven for fugitives.
The CHRF has decided to go ahead with a rally today despite the backdown by the government.
It expects a turnout similar to that on June 9 when it said more than a million people had marched in the biggest protest seen in the city since it was handed back by the British to China in 1997. The police, however, put the turnout at 240,000.
"We've decided to carry on our rally, our black march, starting at 2.30pm. We need to tell the Hong Kong government that the people will persist and that we will not discontinue our protest against the government unless we see the withdrawal of the extradition Bill," said CHRF vice-convenor Bonnie Leung yesterday.
A strike called for tomorrow, however, has been withdrawn as the debate on the Bill in the Legislative Council was suspended.
Beijing and its allies like the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Business and Professionals Alliance yesterday welcomed Mrs Lam's decision, with the State Council saying it "supports, understands and respects" it.
China's Foreign Ministry called the decision an attempt to "listen more widely to the views of the community and restore calm to the community as soon as possible", while pro-government parties in Hong Kong said it would give society breathing space.
Associate Professor Sing Ming of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology believes that tensions will ease in the next few weeks, but this could change rapidly if the label "riot" is not removed from the recent violence.
Rioting is an offence that carries a 10-year jail term.
Prof Sing also said that Mrs Lam's legitimacy "will incur a huge and irredeemable bruise and it will be more difficult for her to push through controversial policies in the remaining period of this term as Hong Kong's Chief Executive".