HONG KONG • Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam faced new calls yesterday to withdraw controversial changes to the city's extradition laws after growing public unrest.
One of Mrs Lam's top advisers said yesterday that her administration underestimated the level of opposition to the Bill, casting doubt on whether the law could be rushed through before the end of the legislative period next month.
The government is considering options, including a pause, rather than withdrawing the Bill, the South China Morning Post reported, citing unidentified sources.
"I think it is impossible to discuss under such confrontation. It is highly difficult," Executive Council convener Bernard Chan said on Hong Kong's RTHK radio. "At least these days, we shouldn't intensify such confrontation."
Mrs Lam has insisted on pushing ahead with the Bill despite protests that have drawn hundreds of thousands onto the streets over concerns that it would further strengthen Beijing's grip over Hong Kong.
While only a few protesters were still near the legislature yesterday, Mrs Lam called off an appearance at a technology conference organised by the Wall Street Journal, organisers said.
"So far, everybody is very unhappy with the way the government handled it," Mr Felix Chung, who represents the textile and garments industries as a pro-establishment member of Hong Kong's legislature, said in a phone interview.
"I believe most people in Hong Kong do not agree with the reasons why it has to be that rushed."
The Civil Human Rights Front, which staged the last protest, said it has applied for police permission to stage another rally tomorrow.
The police have not yet responded to the Front's request for a permit to march about 3km from Victoria Park in the city's Tin Hau area to the government headquarters. The group said it did not see any reason why the police should refuse its request because its events have been peaceful.
Opposition lawmakers have repeatedly called for Mrs Lam to withdraw the Bill.
She made an emotional defence of the proposal on Wednesday, arguing that the amendments were necessary to prevent the city from becoming a refuge for fugitives.
China on Thursday repeated its position that Hong Kong's affairs should remain "purely internal", and condemned what it said was protester violence.
"No society ruled by law can tolerate such behaviour," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing, reiterating its support for Hong Kong's government.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt spoke with Mrs Lam on Thursday and called on Hong Kong to engage in a dialogue with protesters. The city was returned to China from British rule in 1997.
United States President Donald Trump said he was confident Hong Kong and China would resolve their differences over it.
Mr Bill Chung, a Hong Kong pro-establishment lawmaker, said that opponents of the Bill were exaggerating its pitfalls and that safeguards against misuse had been added.
The statements by foreign governments questioning the Bill have only fuelled Beijing's resolve to pass it even though "it is not such a big deal to delay it or make amendments", he said.
"Now it has been raised to an international, diplomatic level," Mr Chung said. "That is why the central government and Hong Kong are standing so firm on this Bill now."