Hong Kong: Hong Kong's pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday said a widely loathed proposal to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland "is dead" but again stopped short of protester demands to withdraw the bill.
The finance hub has been plunged into its worst crisis in recent history following a month of huge marches as well as separate violent confrontations with police involving a minority of hardcore protesters.
"There are still lingering doubts about the government's sincerity or worries (about) whether the government will restart the process with the Legislative Council. So I reiterate here, there is no such plan. The bill is dead." she said in a press conference.
The rallies were sparked by a now-suspended law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
But they have since morphed into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory.
Public anger has soared against the city's pro-Beijing leaders and its police force after officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters outside parliament last month.
Lam has made very few public appearances in recent weeks.
But on Tuesday she resurfaced to hold a press conference in which she made her most conciliatory comments to date.
She described her administration's attempt to introduce the extradition bill as "a complete failure", agreed to meet students in public without preconditions and said she recognised that the city was facing an unprecedented array of challenges.
"I come to the conclusion that there are some fundamental and deep-seated problems in Hong Kong society," she said. "It could be economic problems, it could be livelihood issues, it could be political divisions in society," Lam added.
Analyst Dixon Sing said her words would do little to defang the protest movement. "Trust in the government has sunk to such a record level that if there's not a clear fulfillment of the (key) demands, the majority of the Hong Kong public will still be very skeptical of the government's sincerity," he told AFP.
Lam has been under pressure to appoint an independent judge as head of a public commission of inquiry into the police response to the protests.
But she rejected those calls again on Tuesday, backing an existing police complaints body to investigate claims of excessive force.
The anti-extradition movement has united an unlikely cross-section of Hong Kong society, including major business, legal bodies as well as religious leaders, activists and journalists.
Protesters are becoming increasingly creative, chat forums and encrypted messenger apps are buzzing with calls for the mass withdrawal of funds from the Bank of China this Saturday to "stress test" the organisation's liquidity.
Beijing has thrown its full support behind Lam, calling on police to pursue anyone involved in the parliament storming and other clashes.
Over the weekend its ambassador to London said the extradition bill was needed to "plug loopholes", fuelling fears Beijing still wants the legislation to pass.
The protests are also part of a long battle for the soul of Hong Kong between those who see full integration with the autocratic mainland as an inevitability and others wishing to preserve the city's unique freedoms and culture.
Under the 1997 handover deal with the British, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and rights like freedom of speech.
But many say that 50-year deal is already being reneged on, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of democracy protest leaders.
Authorities have also resisted calls for the city's leader to be directly elected by the people.
Updated Date: Jul 09, 2019 12:43:36 IST