Hong Kong’s embattled leader on Saturday said a divisive bill that would allow extraditions to China would be “suspended” in a major climbdown from her government after a week of unprecedented protests.
The city’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam has come under huge pressure to abandon the controversial legislation, including from her own political allies and advisers.
“The government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise, restart our communication with all sectors of society, do more… work and listen to different views of society,” Lam told reporters Saturday.
“We have no intention to set a deadline for this work and promise to report to and consult members of the legislative council panel on security before we decide on the next step forward.” The international finance hub was rocked by the worst political violence since its 1997 handover to China on Wednesday as tens of thousands of protesters were dispersed by riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
As criticism mounted, signs also emerged of a growing discomfort among Communist Party leaders in Beijing, and Lam held her press conference on Saturday at the same government complex that was besieged by protesters earlier in the week.
The South China Morning Post said Lam held an emergency meeting on Friday night with her advisers while Chinese officials were also meeting in the nearby city of Shenzhen to map a way out of the impasse.
Tensions were running high with protest organisers planning another mass rally on Sunday.
Opposition to the extradition bill has united an unusually wide cross-section of Hong Kong.
Protest organisers had been calling for a full withdrawal of the bill, not a postponement.
“The credibility of our chief executive has already been written off, it’s a kind of government that cannot have any credibility to rule anymore,” he told reporters Friday.
Beijing has vocally supported the bill and earlier this week threw its full support behind the Lam administration, calling protesters “rioters”.
But it has since sought to distance itself as public anger spiralled.