Extradition bill: Lam retreats amid fresh mass protest

June 17, 2019 09:20
Hong Kong people attend a mass demonstration on Sunday to call for full withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill and also demand that the city’s top leader step down. Photo: Reuters

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam announced on Saturday that she was putting off her controversial extradition bill indefinitely, in a dramatic climbdown that threw into question her ability to continue to lead the city.

Lam said she was suspending the proposed legislation, which had been scheduled for debate last Wednesday, but gave no further insight into its fate, Reuters reports. 

On Sunday, Lam said she was sorry for the way the government dealt with the issue.

The apology came as the city witnessed another huge mass protest, with people taking to the streets and calling for the chief executive to resign over her handling of the bill.

Organizers of Sunday's protest said almost 2 million people turned up for the march to call for full withdrawal of the extradition bill and demand that Lam step down.

The demonstration was also aimed at showing the people's anger at the way police handled a protest on Wednesday, when more than 70 people were injured by rubber bullets and tear gas.

Some of Sunday’s marchers held signs saying, “Do not shoot, we are HongKongers.”

Police said the demonstration reached 338,000 at its peak. Organizers and police have routinely produced vastly different estimates at recent demonstrations.

Organizers estimated a protest the week before drew one million while police said 240,000.

“It’s much bigger today. Many more people,” said one protester who gave her name as Ms Wong. “I came today because of what happened on Wednesday, with the police violence.”

Loud cheers rang out when activists called through loud hailers for Lam’s resignation and the cry “step down” echoed through the streets.

“(An) apology is not enough,” said demonstrator Victor Li, 19.

‘Shorting’ Carrie Lam

The protests have plunged Hong Kong into political crisis, heaping pressure on Lam’s administration and her official backers in Beijing.

Critics say the planned extradition law could threaten Hong Kong’s rule of law and its international reputation as an Asian financial hub. 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said President Trump will raise the issue of Hong Kong human rights at a potential meeting with president Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Japan this month.

In a blog post published on Sunday, Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan sought to play down the impact of the protests.

“Even if the external environment continues to be unclear and the social atmosphere is tense recently, overall Hong Kong’s economic and financial markets are still operating in a stable and orderly manner,” he wrote.

Activist investor David Webb, in a newsletter on Sunday, said if Lam was a stock he would recommend shorting her with a target price of zero.

“Call it the Carrie trade. She has irrevocably lost the public’s trust,” Webb said. “Her minders in Beijing, while expressing public support for now, have clearly lined her up for the chop.”

Pompeo said in an interview with “Fox News Sunday” he was sure the protests would be among the issues that Trump and Xi will discuss.

“We’re watching the people of Hong Kong speak about the things they value, and we’ll see what Lam’s decision is in the coming days and weeks,” Pompeo said.

Last week US lawmakers introduced legislation that would require the American government to certify Hong Kong’s autonomy from China each year in order to continue the special treatment the city gets under the US Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992.

Asked repeatedly on Saturday if she would step down, Lam avoided answering directly and appealed to the public to “give us another chance.”

But her retreat was hailed by business groups including the American Chamber of Commerce, which had spoken out strongly against the bill, and overseas governments.

The UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter: “Well done HK Government for heeding concerns of the brave citizens who have stood up for their human rights”.

China’s top newspaper, the People’s Daily, on Sunday condemned “anti-China lackeys” of foreign forces in Hong Kong.

Lam had argued that the extradition law was necessary to prevent criminals hiding in Hong Kong and that human rights would be protected by the city’s courts which would decide on any extradition on a case-by-case basis.

Critics, including leading lawyers and rights groups, have noted China’s justice system is controlled by the Communist Party, and say it is marked by torture and forced confessions, arbitrary detention and poor access to lawyers. Update with Reuters

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