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Decision to drop extradition bill not made by China, says Hong Kong leader

Carrie Lam told a news conference that Beijing ‘understands, respects and supports’ her government in the process.

Carrie Lam (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Carrie Lam (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

By Associated Press Reporters

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said the decision to withdraw an extradition bill that sparked months of demonstrations was her government’s own initiative to break the impasse, and not an order from China.

Ms Lam told a news conference that Beijing “understands, respects and supports” her government in the entire process.

Withdrawal of the bill meets one of protesters’ five key demands, but activists have vowed not to yield until the government fulfils all of them.

The other demands are an independent investigation into allegations of police brutality during the protests, the unconditional release of those detained, not labelling the protests as riots, and direct elections of the city’s leader.

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Protests in Hong Kong (Vincent Yu/AP)

The massive but peaceful demonstrations began in June against legislation which would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial, but clashes with police have become increasingly violent as the demands evolved into a wider call for democracy.

Demonstrators threw petrol bombs at officers last weekend and police retaliated with water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and batons. Nearly 1,200 people have been detained so far.

Ms Lam reiterated that the government cannot accede to the protesters’ other demands. She said the police watchdog will be impartial and best suited to investigate alleged police misconduct, and releasing detainees without charges would be “unacceptable@.

She denied making a U-turn on the bill, noting that she suspended it in mid-June, days after the protests began, and in July declared the bill effectively dead.

“It is not exactly correct to describe this as a change of mind,” she said when asked why it took her so long to kill the bill. “As far as the substance is concerned, there is simply no plan to take forward the bill.”

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Violence in Hong Kong (Jae C Hong/AP)

She said the bill will be formally withdrawn without any need for debate and voting in the legislative council, which resumes its meeting next month and is packed with pro-Beijing legislatorss.

“The decision is one of Hong Kong’s… government,” she said. “Throughout the whole process, the central people’s government took the position that they understood why we have to do it. They respect my view, and they support me all the way.”

She said she hoped the bill’s withdrawal and other measures to address discontent will provide an “important basis” to open dialogue to seek a way out of the impasse.

Ms Lam, who was elected as the semi-autonomous city’s chief executive by a pro-Beijing committee of Hong Kong elites, has come under withering criticism for pushing the extradition bill.

Many in Hong Kong saw it as a glaring example of the city’s eroding autonomy since the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.

The bill’s withdrawal, widely seen as a bid to halt the unrest that could embarrass China during its National Day celebrations on October 1, has been condemned as “too little, too late” by government supporters and demonstrators.

PA

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