Hong Kong protesters reject leader Carrie Lam's olive branch

Police officers outside Mongkok police station last night. Over 100 protesters gathered there, chanting "five core demands, not one less", after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced the withdrawal of the extradition Bill.
Police officers outside Mongkok police station last night. Over 100 protesters gathered there, chanting "five core demands, not one less", after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced the withdrawal of the extradition Bill.PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

HK leader's decision to withdraw extradition Bill is too little, too late, says rally organiser

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam's offer of an olive branch was rejected by some protesters, including the organisers of the largest anti-government marches the city has seen since the handover in 1997, in a sign that the unrest will not ease.

Mrs Lam said yesterday that the controversial extradition Bill will be completely withdrawn when the Legislative Council (LegCo) meets again.

A full withdrawal means that the Bill cannot be reintroduced in a straightforward notice from the government to the LegCo, unlike a suspension, where it remains part of the legislative agenda and can be restarted at any time.

Still, the move did not appease the Civil Human Rights Front, the organiser of the June 16 march with a turnout of two million people.

Spokesman Bonnie Leung called the decision "too little, too late".

"If it had happened two months earlier, we would have seen much less bloodshed," she said.

"The police force actually now has absolute power, so they corrupt absolutely," she added. "We have to get it sorted, otherwise our society simply cannot resume our normal lives where the rule of law is upheld."

Ms Gloria Chan of the Hong Kong Mothers' Anti-Extradition Rally said there has been police brutality against protesters and civilians in the past few months, and that "white terror" has gripped the city.

"Citizens facing mass arrests and the terror of being beaten up by the police even if they haven't done anything wrong - the Chief Executive can't be blind to these," Ms Chan said.

 
 
 
 

"An independent inquiry commission is not set up. How can we trust the government has listened to the people?" she said, referring to Mrs Lam's refusal yesterday to set up an independent inquiry into alleged police misconduct. Instead, Mrs Lam named two new members to a police watchdog agency investigating the matter.

Anti-extradition protests started in March, but escalated on June 9 and boiled over into 13 straight weekends of protests that were mostly violent, with the police using tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray, and arresting more than 1,100 people.

Millions of Hong Kongers oppose the Bill as they do not trust the Chinese judiciary system and fear that people sent over to the mainland will not get a fair trial.

Their anger grew amid Mrs Lam's lack of response, and their frustrations were compounded by allegations of police brutality.

The protesters' five demands are: A complete withdrawal of the Bill, an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, removal of the "riot" label, the release of all arrested protesters and the implementation of universal suffrage.

Associate Professor Alfred Wu of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy dubbed Mrs Lam's move "better late than never".

"My guess is that she doesn't want an independent inquiry into the police as this will reveal whether there are fundamental systematic problems with the force," he said, noting that Beijing's priority is "regime stability" and an inquiry may undermine the force's authority.

"If the July 21 Yuen Long attacks didn't take place, her move would have been more meaningful to the public," Prof Wu added.

The police have come under fire for their slow response after white-clad men allegedly linked to triads attacked black-clad protesters and other passengers at Yuen Long MTR station that night. Locals are furious over what they called officers' connections to triads that allegedly explained why the police did not act as swiftly to investigate and arrest culprits as they did with suspected protesters.

"Hong Kongers will not be satisfied by partial victory... Five demands, not one less," said Ms Chan, a representative of a protester group which held a Citizens' Press Conference last night.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi Wai accused Mrs Lam of trying to create further tension in society so as to invoke sweeping emergency powers under a colonial-era law.

But Ms Starry Lee, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, urged people "to take this opportunity and rethink what is good for Hong Kong society".

Still, pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien believes an inquiry led by a judge is "absolutely needed". "The main focus today is no longer on the Bill itself," he said.

"The whole focus has switched to the independent commission of inquiry looking into allegations of police's excessive use of force, allegations about the protesters, where the funding is coming from and who is training them, and what is it that they ultimately look for."

Mrs Lam will leave for Nanning city, in southern China's Guangxi region, today to attend the Pan-Pearl River Delta Regional Cooperation Chief Executive Joint Conference, which will be held tomorrow.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2019, with the headline 'Protesters reject Lam's olive branch'. Print Edition | Subscribe