HONG KONG: Hong Kong's chief executive Carrie Lam announced on Tuesday (Jul 9) that a widely-loathed proposal to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland "is dead", but she stopped short of protester demands to immediately withdraw the Bill.
"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.
The chief executive described the work on the Bill as a "complete failure", and urged people to give the government and her space to resolve the issue.
Lam has made few public appearances in recent weeks, but on Tuesday she held a press conference in which she made her most conciliatory comments to date.
She agreed to meet students in public without preconditions and said she recognised that the city was facing an unprecedented array of challenges.
"I have come to the conclusion that there are some fundamental and deep-seated problems in Hong Kong society," she said.
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"It could be economic problems, it could be livelihood issues, it could be political divisions in society. So the first thing we should do is identify those fundamental issues and hopefully, find some solutions to move forward."
But she shied away from other key protester demands, including calls for an independent judge to head a commission of inquiry into police tactics, saying the city's current police complaints mechanism was conducting its own investigation.
Violent demonstrations have marred Hong Kong over the last month, with protesters clashing with riot police in the streets.
Last Monday, thousands of protesters smashed their way into the Legislative Council building, scrawling anti-government graffiti on its walls and hanging up a colonial-era flag.
READ: Protests pile pressure on Hong Kong's already-stressed young people: Experts
Lam had previously suspended the Bill, but stopped short of scrapping it outright. On Tuesday, she said she did not think protesters would believe her if she used the word "withdraw".
"To some extent, if it was withdrawn today, it could be brought back to LegCo three months later," she added.
"But maybe the residents want to hear a very resolute and decisive saying. So 'the Bill is dead' is a relatively resolute saying."
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She also called for protesters to express their dissent through peaceful means.
"We are sad to see these violent acts because they undermine the rule of law in Hong Kong,” the chief executive said.
“So I make a very sincere plea here, that in the future, if anyone in Hong Kong have any different views - especially those about the Hong Kong government’s policies - please continue to uphold the value of expressing it in a peaceful and orderly manner.”
Demonstrators have called for Lam to resign as Hong Kong's chief executive, for an independent investigation into police actions against protesters, and for the government to abandon the description of a violent protest on Jun 12 as a riot.
"It is not a simple thing for CE (chief executive) to step down, and I myself still have the passion and undertaking to service Hong Kong people," she said when asked about the protesters' demands.
"I hope that Hong Kong society can give me and my team the opportunity and room to allow us to use our new governance style to response to people's demand in economy and in livelihood."
She also stressed the independence of Hong Kong's Department of Justice regarding prosecuting protesters.
"Any demand that we should grant an amnesty at this stage, in other words, we will not follow up on investigations and prosecutions of offenders, is not acceptable," said Lam.
"Because that bluntly goes against a rule of law in Hong Kong, and also deviates from the very important principle laid down in the Basic Law that no one should interfere with the Department of Justice prosecutorial decisions."
University students who have made up the bulk of protesters shrugged off Lam's latest comments, saying nothing more than a full withdrawal of the Bill will do.
"What we want is to completely withdraw the Bill. She is playing word games," said Chan Wai Lam William, General Officer of the Student Union of Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Analyst Dixon Sing said it was unlikely protesters would be satisfied by Lam's latest statement.
"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 sceptical of the government's sincerity," he told AFP.
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 may try to ram through the legislation.
Hong Kong has been governed under a "one country, two systems" formula since its return from British to Chinese rule in 1997, allowing freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the right to protest and an independent judiciary.
Critics say the extradition law could threaten Hong Kong's rule of law and its international reputation as an Asian financial hub.