HONG KONG: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Wednesday (Sep 4) said that she will officially withdraw the extradition Bill that triggered months of protests so the Chinese-ruled city can move forward from a "highly vulnerable and dangerous" place and find solutions.
The announcement came after Reuters reports on Friday and Monday revealed that Beijing had thwarted an earlier proposal from Lam to withdraw the Bill and that she had said privately that she would resign if she could, according to a leaked audio recording.
"Lingering violence is damaging the very foundations of our society, especially the rule of law," Lam said in a video statement released via her office.
"The government will formally withdraw the Bill in order to fully allay public concerns," Lam said.
READ: ‘Unforgivable’ for chief executive to have caused ‘huge havoc to Hong Kong’ - Full transcript of Carrie Lam’s leaked remarks
In a message that was markedly more conciliatory in tone than her more recent statements, Lam appealed for protesters to abandon violence and to embrace a "dialogue" with the government.
"Let's replace conflicts with conversations and let's look for solutions," she said.
"We must find ways to address the discontent in society and to look for solutions," she added.
The extradition law would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.
The withdrawal of the draft legislation was one of the protesters' key demands. Lam had declared the Bill "dead" in July, but stopped short of withdrawing it.
Opponents of the Bill saw it as a threat to the rule of law in Hong Kong, putting people at the mercy of China's justice system.
What started off as demonstrations to the Bill later evolved into a wider campaign involving clashes between protesters and police, in the biggest challenge to China's rule of Hong Kong since its 1997 handover from the British.
Apart from the full withdrawal of the Bill, many are furious at perceived police brutality and the number of arrests - 1,183 at the latest count - and want an independent inquiry.
"I pledge that the government will seriously follow up the recommendations of the IPCC's (Independent Police Complaints Council) report. From this month, I and my principal officials will reach out to the community to start a direct dialogue ... we must find ways to address the discontent in society and look for solutions."
The protesters have also called for Lam to resign. The Hong Kong leader has, however, said that she has no intention of stepping down.
In a press conference on Tuesday, she said she had "not even contemplated" discussing her resignation with the Chinese government. However, this was in contrast to an audio recording of her telling business leaders that she wanted to quit over three months of unrest in the semi-autonomous city.
READ: Hong Kong protests - Key dates as peaceful rallies against extradition Bill turn to violent clashes
ROOM FOR DIALOGUE
On Wednesday, Lam also announced plans to hold a dialogue for people to "share their views and air their grievances". She also spoke of plans to commission academics, advisors and professionals "to independently examine and review society's deep-seated problems and advise the government on finding solutions".
But she also warned protesters that ongoing violence and challenges to Beijing's authority were placing Hong Kong in a "vulnerable and dangerous" position - a reference to increasingly shrill threats from the authoritarian mainland.
"Our foremost priority now is to end violence, to safeguard the rule of law and to restore order and safety in society," she warned.
It was not immediately clear if the Bill's withdrawal would help end the unrest.
Online message forums used by the largely leaderless demonstrators were on Wednesday filled with angry comments saying the Bill's withdrawal will not end the protests.
"More than 1,000 people have been arrested, countless injured," one widely shared message on the Telegram messaging app read.
"Five major demands, not one less. Liberate HK, revolution now," it added.
"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."
One woman, Pearl, 69, said the protests were no longer about the Bill.
"Some of those guys may change their minds, maybe, but just a minority," she said of the protesters. "Some of them just want to create trouble and they will continue to do so."
"Too little, too late," said Joshua Wong, a leader of the 2014 pro-democracy protests which were the precursor to the current unrest, on his Facebook page.
The Hong Kong government first launched the proposals in February, putting forward sweeping changes that would simplify case-by-case extraditions of criminal suspects to countries beyond the 20 with which Hong Kong has existing extradition treaties.
It explicitly allows extraditions from Hong Kong to greater China - including the mainland, Taiwan and Macau - for the first time, closing what Hong Kong government officials have repeatedly described as a "loophole" that they claim has allowed the city to become a haven for criminals from the mainland.
Hong Kong's leader would start and finally approve an extradition following a request from a foreign jurisdiction but only after court hearings, including any possible appeals.
However, the Bill removes Legislative Council oversight of extradition arrangements.
Officials initially seized on the murder last year of a young Hong Kong woman holidaying in Taiwan to justify swift changes. Police say her boyfriend confessed on his return to Hong Kong and he is now in jail on lesser money-laundering charges.
Taiwan authorities have strongly opposed the Bill, which they say could leave Taiwanese citizens exposed in Hong Kong and have vowed to refuse taking back the murder suspect if the Bill is passed.
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