Hong Kong leader halts extradition bill but opponents vow fresh rally

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s embattled leader on Saturday suspended a hugely divisive bill that would allow extraditions to China, in a major climbdown following unprecedented unrest, but protesters vowed to press ahead with a mass Sunday rally.
The concession from chief executive Carrie Lam was swiftly rejected by protest leaders, who called on her to resign, permanently shelve the bill and apologise for police tactics.
The international finance hub was rocked by the worst political violence since its 1997 handover to China on Wednesday as tens of thousands of protesters were dispersed by riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
Those clashes came three days after Lam refused to be budged by a record-breaking rally in which organisers said more than a million people marched through the streets calling for the Beijing-backed bill to be scrapped.
Critics fear the law will tangle people up in China’s notoriously opaque and politicised courts as well as hammer the city’s reputation as a safe business hub.
After days of mounting pressure — including from her own allies — Lam relented on Saturday, announcing that work on the bill would be halted.
She set no deadline for its reintroduction but stopped short of saying it was permanently scrapped.
Jimmy Sham, from the main protest group the Civil Human Rights Front, likened that offer to a “knife” that had been plunged into the city.
“It’s almost reached our heart. Now the government said they won’t push it, but they also refuse to pull it out,” he told reporters as the front announced they would push ahead with a planned massive rally on Sunday.
Lam’s about turn was a rare concession from the city’s pro-Beijing leaders who have successfully faced down demands from pro-democracy demonstrators in recent years.
But anger over how police and city leaders treated predominantly young demonstrators is still simmering and opponents hope another huge turnout will pile pressure on Lam.
The chief executive — who is appointed by a committee stacked with Beijing loyalists — said she had no plans to resign. She defended the need to overhaul the city’s extradition laws and said she retained the support of China’s government. — AFP