Hong Kong Leader Carrie Lam Suspends Extradition Bill, Apologises
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Saturday, 15 June, that she has indefinitely suspended the proposed extradition bill which sparked the city's biggest public protests in years.
Lam told reporters that the move is in response to widespread public outrage over the amendments, which would enable authorities to send criminal suspects to be tried in mainland China.
Many in the former British colony are apprehensive that it will further erode their legal protections and freedoms.
“After repeated internal deliberations over the last two days, I now announce that the government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise,” Lam said.
Lam said she would “adopt a sincere and humble attitude in accepting criticism” about how the government handled the matter.
Hong Kong in Limbo as Protests Crisis Deepens
Lam made the announcement as another mass protest was expected on Sunday, 16 June, after clashes turned violent on 12 June, leaving about 80 people injured including 22 police personnel.
Lam, chosen by Beijing to be the highest-level local official, is caught between her Communist Party-bosses and a public anxious to protect the liberties they enjoy as a former British colony.
She had previously refused to withdraw the bill and many protesters demanded that she quit.
Police Use Tougher Tactics Against Protesters
The protests died down later in the week but at around midnight on Friday, 14 June, dozens could still be seen singing and keeping vigil near the city’s government headquarters where demonstrators and the police had tussled, the latter employing tear gas, pepper spray, hoses and steel batons to subdue the thousands pushing through barricades.
The police said 11 people were arrested. Lam declared that Wednesday's violence was “rioting”, potentially raising severe legal penalties for those arrested for partaking in it. In previous cases of unrest, authorities have waited months or years before rounding up protest leaders. In April, nine leaders of a 2014 pro-democracy protest movement known as the "Umbrella Revolution" were convicted for public nuisance and other charges.
Prior to Lam’s announcement, some members of the Executive Council, Hong Kong's cabinet, said that she should perhaps rethink plans to rush the bills' passage. A group of former senior government officials issued a public letter urging her not to force a confrontation by pushing the unpopular bill ahead.
Many in Hong Kong fear the measures would undermine the former British colony's legal autonomy.
More than 1,000 people joined a peaceful “mother's protest” on Friday, 14 June evening in a downtown garden.
Bill Draws Criticism From US and British Lawmakers
Adding to the tension, the extradition bill has drawn criticism from the US and British lawmakers and human rights groups, prompting Beijing to lash back with warnings against “interference” in its internal affairs.
Anson Chan, the former chief secretary of Hong Kong, said on 14 June that Lam could keep her post if she backed down.
“What the people are attempting to tell is that we are very worried about the consequences of passing the extradition bill, because no one will feel safe, even in their own beds, after passage of this bill,” Chan said in an interview.
“It places everybody's individual freedom and safety at risk,” said Chan, who as chief secretary was the top local civil servant under former British Governor Chris Patten.
(Published in an arrangement with the Associated Press)
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