Hong Kong police clear streets as protesters move to park

Wednesday, 19 Jun, 2019

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam apologized on Tuesday for the political unrest sparked by a proposed Beijing-backed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

Lam's climbdown, with the approval of China's Communist Party leaders, was the biggest policy reversal since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and presented a new challenge for Chinese President Xi Jinping who has ruled with an iron fist since taking power in 2012.

Protesters cleared out of Hong Kong's streets Monday, averting possible clashes with police, but stayed near government headquarters to press their demands that the city's leader resign and abandon an extradition bill that stoked fears of Beijing's expanding control.

As for the fate of the extradition bill, Lam said she will "not proceed again with this legislative exercise" if the "fears and anxieties" of critics can not be addressed.

Lam Ching-choi said of Carrie Lam, "I believe she will communicate her apologies to the public in the near future".

The mostly young protesters still gathered near the government headquarters began moving off the downtown streets on Monday morning after hours of haggling with police.

The vote was the result of a motion moved by Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan, which said that the Hong Kong leader had misled the public and the worldwide community about the proposed extradition bill.

So far, China has been excluded from Hong Kong's extradition agreements because of concerns over the independence of its courts and its human rights record.

Joshua Wong, who became the poster child of the 2014 "Umbrella Movement" protests, will walk free at 10.30am (9.30am in Thailand), his political party said.

Another even larger protest march took place after Lam's suspension on June 16, when about 2 million participants took to the streets to call for the bill to be completely withdrawn.

Lam suspended the bill on Saturday after two massive rallies that saw isolated bouts of violence between the police and some protesters.

The latest round of protests behind them, Hong Kong legislators were due to meet Wednesday.

Passage of the extradition legislation would allow authorities to send some suspects to China, where opponents worry they may face torture and unfair trials.

She responded by saying, "I've said that I want another chance" and hopes to continue serving the public. Lam also refused to apologize, saying the bill was the result of "deficiencies" in her office, but not an all-out mistake, and that "substantial controversies and disputes in society", led her to reconsider the bill - not a almost all-out revolt on the part of Hong Kong's residents.

In a private meeting with a group of educators on Monday, Lam said her decision to suspend the contentious bill meant "total withdrawal", and her government would not propose the legal amendments again, RTHK reported.

Many accuse China of extensive meddling, including obstruction of democratic reforms, interference with elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.

Mo said "we will fight on as usual within and without the legislature for Hong Kong's true democracy campaign".

Activists rejected Lam's earlier apologies for her handling of the legislation.

The protesters have mainly focused their ire toward Ms. Lam, who has little choice but to carry through dictates issued by Beijing. It would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau, and mainland China.

Millions of people have taken to the streets of the semi-autonomous territory to protest the bill, which they fear would lead to critics of Beijing being targeted if passed. Also, while most people in Hong Kong are ethnic Chinese, they mostly identify themselves as "Hong Kongers" and not as Chinese.