Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 July 2019

Hong Kong indefinitely suspends unpopular bill after mass protests

The city was hit with the worst political violence since its 1997 handover to China

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said she will suspend a proposed extradition bill indefinitely.

Ms Lam said on Saturday she took the move in response to widespread public unhappiness over the measure, which would enable authorities to send some suspects to stand trial in mainland courts.

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 – and signs emerged of a growing discomfort among party leaders in Beijing – local media in Hong Kong reported that Ms Lam's administration was planning to announce some sort of step back as it tries to find its way out of the political crisis. Hong Kong, however, is braced for fresh protests on Sunday.

epaselect epa07638248 Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks at a press conference in Hong Kong, China, 10 June 2019. Lam said she will not withdraw the controversial extradition bill or resign as chief executive, despite mass protests that gripped the city on 09 June. EPA/JEROME FAVRE
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks at a press conference in Hong Kong. EPA

Earlier, the South China Morning Post, Now TV, TVB and RTHK, all cited government sources as saying the plan will postpone, bringing the divisive bill back to the city's parliament for debate – the trigger for Wednesday's clashes.

The SCMP said Ms Lam held an emergency meeting on Friday with her advisers while Chinese officials were also meeting in the nearby city of Shenzhen to map a way out of the impasse. The Hong Kong leader is expected to hold a press conference on Saturday.

Ms Lam, who is appointed by a committee stacked with Beijing loyalists, has so far refused to abandon the bill despite months of criticism from business and legal bodies – and a record-breaking rally on Sunday, where organisers said more than a million protesters hit the streets.

But on Friday, she found herself facing growing calls from within her own political camp to reverse course and tamp down spiralling public anger – including from hardline pro-Beijing policymakers.

"Shouldn't we cool the citizens down? I think to postpone it for a little bit is not a bad thing. At this moment, the government should self-examine," Ann Chiang, a hardcore pro-Beijing lawmaker, told i-Cable News.

But other hardliners have warned against Ms Lam bending to the protesters.

"If the government caves in to violence and external influences, in the long-run that would also make Hong Kong ungovernable," said pro-Beijing parliament member Regina Ip.

epa07647646 A group of Hong Kong mothers attend a rally in Hong Kong, China, 14 June 2019. The mothers started an online petition, signed by tens of thousands, to voice their disagreement with Chief Executive Carrie Lam's analogy likening herself and protesters of the extradition bill to a mother and her spoiled children during an interview this week. The petition said the mothers would definitely not use tear gas, rubber bullets and bag bean rounds on their own children. It also urges Lam, 'as the head of the city and a servant to the people', to postpone or scrap the legal amendments in light of the strong opposition. EPA/JEROME FAVRE
A group of Hong Kong mothers attend a rally in Hong Kongafter starting an online petition, signed by tens of thousands to voice their disagreement with Ms Lam's analogy likening herself and protesters of the extradition bill to a mother and her spoiled children. EPA

Opposition to the extradition bill has united an unusually wide cross-section of Hong Kong.

On Friday night, thousands of parents gathered in a park in the heart of the city's commercial district to condemn the use of rubber bullets and tear gas against predominantly young protesters on Wednesday.

Y Chan, 50, a mother of two, said she was outraged watching the scenes unfold.

"It's calling for all mothers who had enough already of what happened the other day," she said. "My kids were out there also that day. And although I want them to be safe, want them to be at home, but this is their home. They are defending it."

Updated: June 16, 2019 08:27 AM

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