HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam apologised again on Tuesday (Jun 18) and said she had heard the people "loud and clear" after some of the most violent protests in the city against an extradition Bill that she had promoted and then postponed.
Lam gave no indication she was prepared to step down, saying instead she wanted to "continue to work very hard ... to meet the aspirations of the Hong Kong people".
She also refused to say whether the Bill would be withdrawn, only that it would not be re-introduced during her time in office if public fears persist.
"During large-scale public processions over the past two Sundays, people have expressed in a peaceful and rational manner their concerns about the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and their dissatisfaction and disappointment with the government, especially me. I have heard you loud and clear and have reflected deeply on all that has transpired," said Lam.
"The concerns over the past few months have been caused by deficiencies in the work of the SAR (Special Administrative Region) government over the amendment exercise. I personally have to shoulder much of the responsibility. This has led to controversies, this builds anxieties in society, for this I offer my most sincere apology to all people of Hong Kong," she added.
Lam also indicated that the extradition Bill was unlikely to be revived given the public sentiment.
"I will not proceed again with this legislative exercise if these fears and anxieties (cannot) be adequately addressed," she said.
"If the Bill ... (does) not make the legislative council by July next year, it will expire ... and the government will accept that reality."
MILLIONS PROTESTED EXTRADITION BILL
The law, if passed, would have allowed case-by-case extraditions to mainland China. Despite its postponement, around two million people spilled onto the streets on Sunday, demanding Lam step down and scrap the Bill entirely.
Protesters also demanded that Lam apologises for police using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters last week, and for all charges to be dropped against anyone detained during the protests.
Lam's climbdown, with the approval of China's Communist Party leaders, was the biggest policy reversal since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and presented a new challenge for Chinese President Xi Jinping who has ruled with an iron fist since taking power in 2012.
Beijing-backed Lam reiterated there was no timetable to resume the extradition Bill and it would not be resumed if the government could not resolve divisions.
"ONE COUNTRY, TWO SYSTEMS"
Many accuse China, where the courts are strictly controlled by the Communist Party, of extensive meddling since the handover, with the extradition proposals a further example.
Since the proposed amendments to the Fugitives Offenders' Ordinance was first put to the legislature in February, Lam has repeatedly rebuffed concerns voiced in many quarters, including business groups, lawyers, judges, and foreign governments against the Bill.
Critics say the Bill would undermine Hong Kong's rule of law, guaranteed by the "one country, two systems" formula, under which Hong Kong returned to China, by extending China's reach into the city, and allow individuals to be arbitrarily sent back to China where they couldn't be guaranteed a fair trial.
Lam issued an apology on Sunday night through a written government statement that many people said lacked sincerity. It failed to pacify many marchers who said they no longer trusted her and doubted her ability to govern.
Lam, a career civil-servant known as "the fighter" for her straight-shooting and tough leadership style, took office two years ago pledging to heal a divided society. Some observers say she is unlikely to step down immediately but any longer-term political ambitions she may have harboured are now all but dead.
Many protest organisers say they will continue to hold street demonstrations until Lam scraps the Bill, fearing that authorities may seek to revive the legislation in future when the public mood is calmer.