Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is set to formally withdraw an extradition bill that sparked an ongoing protest against her administration and the Chinese government in June and paralysed the city, which is one of Asia’s most important financial hubs, South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday. An unidentified city official also confirmed the news to Reuters.
The government’s decisions to accept one of the five demands of the protestors came even as the protests against Lam’s administration turned violent in recent weeks. On September 1, the police fired tear-gas shells and water cannons at the protestors, who hurled petrol bombs at them. The following day, hundreds of school students boycotted classes to join pro-democracy demonstrations as they returned after summer vacation. Protestors also disrupted trains in the rush hours by standing at doorways at underground stations.
“This gesture to formally withdraw is a bid to cool down the atmosphere,” an unidentified official told the newspaper.
Another official said the bill’s complete withdrawal was the easiest way to assure protestors that the government was listening to their concerns. “The chief executive started to change her mind after meeting with 19 city leaders two weeks ago,” the official added. “She heeded their views on how to de-escalate the tensions.”
At a closed-door meeting with businessmen last week, Lam said she had caused “unforgivable havoc” by introducing the bill, Reuters reported. According to a leaked audio recording from the meeting, the city chief executive said she would apologise and resign if she had a choice. She told the businessmen that she now had “very limited” room to end the crisis because it had become a national security and sovereignty matter for China amid rising tensions with the United States.
In July, Lam had suspended the bill, which would have allowed the extradition of criminals to mainland China. However, the protestors were unmoved and said as long as the bill remained on the legislative agenda there was a chance of it being brought back. The term of the city’s Legislative Council ends next year. The protestors also want an independent inquiry into the use of excessive police force against them and Lam’s resignation. Last month, Beijing had claimed that criminals and agitators were stirring violence, encouraged by foreign powers such as Britain and the United States.
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