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Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam withdraws controversial extradition bill

Anthony Wallace, AFP | Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks to the media during her weekly press conference in Hong Kong on September 3, 2019.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced on Wednesday the formal withdrawal of an extradition bill that triggered months of unrest and has thrown the Chinese-controlled city into its worst crisis in decades, Cable TV and other media said.

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The protests in the former British colony began in June over the bill, which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have since evolved into a push for greater democracy.

Lam said it was clear that public frustration has gone far beyond the bill and that her government will seek a dialogue with aggrieved groups to "address the discontent in society and to look for solutions."

She said she will also invite community leaders, professionals and academics to examine deep-seated problems in the society and advise the government on solutions. "Let's replace conflicts with conversations, and let's look for solutions," she said.

Lam made the announcement after meeting with pro-government lawmakers and members of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Hong Kong's stock market climbed nearly 4 percent in afternoon trade after the reports emerged.

The withdrawal of the draft legislation was one of the protesters' key demands. Lam has said before that the bill was "dead" but she did not withdraw it.

‘Won't appease protesters’

It was not immediately clear if the bill's withdrawal would help end the unrest. The immediate reaction appeared sceptical and the real test will be how many people take to the streets.

Lawmaker Michael Tien, who was at the meeting, said the withdrawal of the bill would not change public sentiment if it isn't accompanied by other concessions, especially an independent inquiry into alleged police misconduct.

'Too little, too late?'

"It is too little, too late. The focus now has completely shifted. Most people do not remember what the bill is about but are more concerned about the escalating violence and alleged police heavy-handedness against protesters," he said.

The sentiment was echoed by Joshua Wong, a leader of the 2014 pro-democracy protests which were the precursor to the current unrest. “Too little, too late,” said the Hong Kong student activist and politician in a Facebook post shortly after the announcement.

"This won't appease the protesters," said Boris Chen, 37, who works in financial services. "In any kind of time, people will find something they can get angry about."

‘Unforgiveable havoc’

Hong Kong returned to China under a "one country, two systems" formula that allows it to keep freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, like the freedom to protest and an independent legal system, hence the anger at the extradition bill and perceived creeping influence by Beijing.

Lam told business leaders last week that she had caused "unforgivable havoc" by introducing the bill and that if she had a choice she would apologise and resign, according to a leaked audio recording.

At the closed-door meeting, Lam told the group that she now has "very limited" room to resolve the crisis because the unrest has become a national security and sovereignty issue for China amid rising tensions with the United States.

China has denounced the protests and warned about the impact on Hong Kong's economy

Crackdown

China denies it is meddling in Hong Kong's affairs but warned again on Tuesday that it would not sit idly by if the unrest threatened Chinese security and sovereignty.

Riot police fired beanbag guns and used pepper spray - both anti-riot weapons - on Tuesday to clear demonstrators from outside the Mong Kok police station and in Prince Edward metro station, with one man taken out on a stretcher with an oxygen
mask over his face, television footage showed.

Videos showing the man being apprehended by the police in the station have been widely shared on social media with protest groups and activists saying it is evidence of the police brutality they say is widespread and needs to be investigated.

The police, who have repeatedly denied using excessive force, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Hong Kong police are due to hold a news conference at 4 p.m. (0800 GMT).

Three men, aged between 21 and 42, were taken to Kwong Wa Hospital late on Tuesday, a hospital authority spokeswoman said.

Two, including the man stretchered out of Prince Edward station, were in a stable condition and one had been discharged, she said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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