Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam yesterday indefinitely delayed a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, in a dramatic retreat after anger over the bill triggered the city’s biggest and most violent street protests in decades.
The extradition bill, which would have covered Hong Kong’s seven million residents as well as foreign and Chinese nationals there, was seen by many as a threat to the rule of law in the former British colony.
Around a million people marched through Hong Kong last Sunday to oppose the bill, according to organisers of the protest, the largest in the city since crowds came out against the bloody suppression of prodemocracy demonstrations centred around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
Demonstrations continued through the week and were met with tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets from police, plunging the Asian finance hub into turmoil and piling heavy pressure on Lam.
“After repeated internal deliberations over the last two days, I now announce that the government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise, restart our communication with all sectors of society, do more explanation work and listen to different views of society,” Lam told a news conference.
In her first public appearance or comments since Wednesday, she said there was no deadline, effectively suspending the process indefinitely.
Political opponents called for the bill to be scrapped completely. Protest organisers said they would go ahead with another rally today to demand Lam step down.
The about-face was one of the most significant political turnarounds under public pressure by the Hong Kong government since Britain returned the territory to China in 1997, and it threw into question Lam’s ability to continue to lead the city.
The Chinese government office in charge of Hong Kong affairs expressed “support, respect and understanding” of Lam’s decision to suspend the bill.