Hong Kong’s embattled leader announced on Wednesday (September 24) the formal withdrawal of a highly-controversial extradition bill, months after protesters first demanded its scrapping.
In a speech, Lam reportedly said: “Is Hong Kong still a safe place? People who hold different views are bullied. What happened over the two months has shocked many.”
The formal withdrawal of the bill meets at least one of five demands protesters have put forward to the government. The other demands are: Carrie Lam’s resignation, an official judge-led inquiry into police handling of the protests, for arrested protesters and activists to be released, and for democratic freedom including universal suffrage.
According to SCMP, Lam said in her announcement that the government will let the Independent Police Complaints Council conduct the probe into police actions, including and especially the Yuen Long MTR attacks on July 21.
On protesters’ demands that the government release protesters who were arrested, Lam said it was not “acceptable” as it would be “contrary to the rule of law”.
Describing universal suffrage as the “ultimate aim laid down in the Basic Law”, Lam also added that discussions “must be undertaken within the legal framework, and in an atmosphere that is conducive to mutual trust and understanding, and without further polarising society”.
Moving forward, the government will reach out to different communities in a bid to understand people’s grievances and find solutions, she said. SCMP also reported Lam as saying that an independent study would be conducted to identify the root causes of several social issues in Hong Kong.
Lam ended her statement by saying that the government’s priority now is to “end violence, to safeguard the rule of law and to restore order and safety in society”.
Millions in damages suffered
This development comes just as the Chinese city’s MTR Corporation revealed that it had suffered around HK$50 million (US$6.4 million) in damages in just a few weeks. This past weekend saw some of the worst public damage after protesters bashed and vandalised equipment at 39 stations across Hong Kong.
Apart from damaged property, protesters have also successfully disrupted the city’s transport network across trains, cars, buses and planes.
The Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China has in recent months been grappling with multiple issues, including that of the extradition bill, which would have allowed for extradition of people wanted in China and Taiwan.
While Lam suspended the bill on June 15 and declared it was “dead”, protesters were frustrated that she did not promise it would be withdrawn.
Peaceful marches against the bill began as early as late March this year, and started to attract larger crowds in July before getting increasingly violent in recent weeks. Since then, there have been 13 consecutive weekends of large-scale protests held on Hong Kong’s roads.
Earlier this week, wire news agency Reuters said it had obtained a leaked audio recording of a closed-door meeting between Lam and a group of business leaders.
According to Reuters, Lam told the group that she had caused “unforgivable havoc” with the bill’s introduction. She added that she had “very limited” room to resolve the crisis plaguing Hong Kong
“If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology,” she was quoted by Reuters as saying.
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