Extradition bill gone, HK remains uneasy
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has withdrawn an extradition bill that triggered months of often violent protests so the Chinese-ruled city can move forward from a "highly vulnerable and dangerous" place and find solutions.
"Lingering violence is damaging the very foundations of our society, especially the rule of law," a sombre Lam said during a televised address.
It was not clear when the recording was made. The withdrawal needs the approval of the Legislative Council, which is not expected to oppose Lam.
The bill would have allowed extraditions to mainland China where courts are controlled by the Communist Party. Its withdrawal is a key demand of protesters but just one of five. The move came after pitched battles across the former British colony of 7 million. More than 1000 protesters were arrested.
Many are furious about perceived police brutality and the number of arrests and want an independent inquiry.
"The government will formally withdraw the bill in order to fully allay public concerns," Lam said on Wednesday.
"I pledge that the government will seriously follow up the recommendations of the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Council) report. From this month, I and my principal officials will reach out to the community to start a direct dialogue ... we must find ways to address the discontent in society and look for solutions."
The protests began in March but snowballed in June and have evolved into a push for greater democracy for the city which returned to China in 1997. It was not clear if killing the bill would help end the unrest. The immediate reaction appeared sceptical.
Some lawmakers said the move should have come earlier.
"The damage has been done. The scars and wounds are still bleeding," said pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo. "She thinks she can use a garden hose to put out a hill fire. That's not going to be acceptable."
Many people on street corners after nightfall were shouting: "Five demands, not one missing."
"We still have four other demands. We hope people won't forget that," said a woman speaking for the protest movement who declined to identify herself except by the surname Chan. "The mobilisation power won't decrease."
The four other demands are: retraction of the word "riot" to describe rallies, release of all demonstrators, an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality and the right for Hong Kong people to choose their own leaders.
"Too little, too late," Joshua Wong, a leader of pro-democracy protests in 2014 that were the precursor to the current unrest, said on his Facebook page.
In the US, Republican senator Marco Rubio, a persistent critic of what he sees as Beijing's attempts to undermine Hong Kong's autonomy, called Lam's move "welcome but insufficient."
"The Chinese Communist Party should uphold its commitments to Hong Kong's autonomy and stop aggravating the situation with threats of violence," he said in a statement.
The protests are the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping's rule since he took power in 2012. Beijing denies meddling in Hong Kong's affairs, yet it warned again on Tuesday that it would act if protests threatened Chinese security and sovereignty.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Cheung Kwok-kwan said Lam's announcement was not a compromise to appease those promoting violence but a bid to win over moderates in the protest camp.
"It was likely speaking to the so-called peaceful, rational, non-violent people who were dissatisfied with the government's response before," he said.
The chief executive's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the bill's withdrawal.