Hong Kong has indefinitely pulled its controversial extradition bill following a backlash that saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets and drew international condemnation from lawyers, businesses and the US government.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, told reporters on Saturday: “We do not intend to set any deadline for the relevant work. We promise after we have collated various views, we will consult with the security panel of Legco (the territory’s parliament).”
Opposition to the proposed bill, which critics claim would allow anyone passing through the territory to be ferried across the border to stand trial in mainland China on potentially trumped-up charges, resulted in violent clashes on the streets of Asia’s financial centre.
Protest organisers said that Sunday’s planned march would go ahead, despite Ms Lam’s mothballing the bill, as its purpose was to condemn the police’s use of weapons and force last Wednesday, as well as using the word “riot” to characterise the protests.
“We also demand that the government should release all thoses arrested in the protests and not prosecute them,” one organiser added.
At least 94 people were injured in violent confrontations on Wednesday when central Hong Kong was brought to a standstill as police and protesters clashed. Police used an estimated of 150 rounds of tear gas, 20 bean bag rounds, several rubber bullets and batons against protesters
Police commissioner Lo Wai-chung said the police acted in self-defence after protesters, armed with metal poles and wooden boards, threw bricks at them. Eleven protesters were arrested for illegal assembly, assault and rioting.
Ms Lam made it clear that the extradition bill would be reintroduced when the time was right.
“We will pause and think and for the time being suspend,” she said.
Beijing officials in charge of Hong Kong’s affairs held meetings in Shenzhen, the mainland Chinese city which borders the former British colony, to better understand the situation in Hong Kong and find a way out of the deadlock, local media reported on Saturday.
Ms Lam had vowed to push ahead with the original timetable for the bill on Monday. But since then the backlash against the bill — from lawyers and businesses as well as the US and other foreign governments — has intensified.
On Friday Bernard Chan, the most senior adviser to Ms Lam, displayed the first sign of a potential split among the city’s leadership when he said it was “impossible” to discuss the bill against a backdrop of violent clashes.