Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday the extradition bill that sparked the territory’s biggest political crisis in decades was dead, admitting that the government’s work on the bill had been a “total failure.”
But Lam’s attempt to restore order in the Asian financial hub and cling to her job did not satisfy many protesters who demanded she completely withdraw the bill and charged her with playing word games by declaring the bill dead.
The bill, which would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to face trial in courts controlled by the ruling Communist Party, sparked huge and at times violent street protests and plunged the former British colony into turmoil.
In mid-June, Lam responded to protests that drew hundreds of thousands of people into the streets by suspending the bill.
On Tuesday she admitted: “There are still lingering doubts about the government’s sincerity or worries whether the government will restart the process in the legislative council.”
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“So I reiterate here, there is no such plan, the bill is dead,” Lam told a news conference.
University students who have made up the bulk of protesters shrugged off Lam’s latest comments, saying nothing more than a full withdrawal of the bill will do.
“What we want is to completely withdraw the bill. She is playing word games,” said Chan Wai Lam William, general officer of the Student Union of Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Demonstrators have called for Lam to resign as Hong Kong’s chief executive (CE), for an independent investigation into police actions against protesters and for the government to abandon the description of a violent protest on June 12 as a riot.
“It is not a simple thing for CE to step down, and I myself still have the passion and undertaking to service Hong Kong people,” she said when asked about the protesters’ demands.
“I hope that Hong Kong society can give me and my team the opportunity and room to allow us to use our new governance style to respond to people’s demand in economy and in livelihood.”
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Chief executives of Hong Kong are selected by a small committee of pro-establishment figures stacked in Beijing’s favour and formally appointed by China’s central government. Lam’s resignation would require Beijing’s approval, experts say.
China has called the protests an “undisguised challenge” to the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled for 22 years since it was handed back to China.
Lam said the June 12 protest, which saw police fire tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds at demonstrators, had not been given a label but reiterated any decision to prosecute protesters would be one for the justice department.
“Any demand that we should run an amnesty at this stage, that we will not follow up on investigations and prosecutions of offenders is not acceptable because that bluntly goes against the rule of law in Hong Kong,” she said.
Hong Kong was returned to China from Britain in 1997 with the promise of a high degree of autonomy, but in recent years, there has been growing concern about the erosion of those freedoms at the hands of Beijing.
The planned bill triggered outrage across broad sections of Hong Kong society amid concerns it would threaten the much-cherished rule of law that underpins the city’s international financial status.
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Hong Kong is governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the right to protest and an independent judiciary.
Lawyers and rights groups say China’s justice system is marked by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detention, claims that Beijing denies.
“My sincere plea is: please give us an opportunity, the time, the room, to take Hong Kong out of the current impasse and try to improve the current situation,” Lam said.