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Hong Kong protests

Five things to know about Hong Kong's extradition bill retraction

Protesters plan more demonstrations over excessive police action and other issues

HONG KONG -- The announcement this week by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to formally withdraw a contentious extradition bill comes after three months of demonstrations and violent clashes between protesters and police. The protests began as a campaign to stop proposed legislation that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China, which many say lacks an independent judicial system.

Lam suspended the legislative debate on the bill in mid-June but her refusal to formally retract the bill was strongly criticized by pro-democracy lawmakers and a majority of the public.

As broad discontent over the bill continued over the summer, demonstrators made other demands, including Lam's resignation and the introduction of universal suffrage. Many protesters vow to press on despite the announcement of the retraction of the bill.

Here are five things you need to know.

How does the government withdraw the bill?

It is a largely technical process, in which a public officer in charge of a bill must make an announcement in the Legislative Council to withdraw it, according to the lawmaking body's Rules of Procedure. Lam said on Wednesday that Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu will withdraw the legislation, known as the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, once LegCo resumes session in October.

Critics of the extradition bill had said that without a formal retraction involving the legal procedure, the suspended bill could have been reintroduced at any time. If the Hong Kong government decides to resurrect the bill -- or for that matter, any legislation that has been withdrawn -- it would have to begin the process anew, although that scenario appears unlikely given the strong opposition by both protesters and the pro-Beijing camp.

Protesters have vowed to continue with their demonstrations. Why?

Activists and pro-democracy groups say that Lam's bowing to just one demand -- the withdrawal of the bill -- is "too little, too late." They say that if the chief executive had withdrawn the bill back in the spring, the issues of violence, aggressive police action and subsequent arrests would never have materialized. 

Pro-democracy lawmaker Ray Chan Chi-chuen said, "At this moment, perhaps only satisfying all five core demands can bring some peace to Hong Kong. As Carrie Lam only withdrew the bill, I can foresee more protests in coming weeks."

A protester is detained by a riot police officer during a protest at a railway station in Hong Kong, on Sept 5.   © Reuters

Why wouldn't Lam establish an independent inquiry to investigate alleged excessive police tactics, as protesters demand?

In her address to the public on Wednesday, Lam said that she "believes that matters relating to police enforcement actions are best handled by the existing and well-established Independent Police Complaints Council, which was set up for exactly this purpose." She also said that the council had set up a panel of international experts to help in its work. She pledged that her government would "seriously follow up" on the council's recommendations.

Protesters argue that the IPCC has limited capabilities -- including the inability to call for witnesses -- and comprises individuals that are sympathetic to the government. They say that they will continue to press for an independent commission of inquiry to ensure a thorough investigation into the police force's actions against demonstrators.

Was Lam ordered by Beijing to withdraw the bill?

At her news conference on Thursday, Lam did not directly respond to reporters' questions on whether her move to formally withdraw the bill was ordered by Beijing. "Throughout the whole process, the Central People's Government took the position that they understood why we have to do it," she said. "They respect my view, and they support me all the way."

Lam's comments come a week after Reuters reported, citing attendees of private meetings the chief executive held with businesspeople and others, that Beijing previously rejected proposals by Lam to withdraw the bill to try to cool tensions in the city.

Some observers, though, noted a change of tone in comments on Tuesday at a news conference held in the capital by officials from Beijing's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, making a new distinction between "peaceful marches" and radical anti-China activities. That could suggest Beijing may have pushed for the announcement of the bill's withdrawal as part of a strategy to try to divide the wider spectrum of businesses and residents opposed to the bill from activists committed to a broader agenda of rapid democratic reforms and other concessions.

What happens next?

Protesters are already planning further demonstrations. The Civil Human Rights Front is planning a march on Oct. 1, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, which also is a public holiday in Hong Kong.

The group also hopes to hold an additional protest in mid-September. We want "to do our best to organize a peaceful rally/march as a valve to release public anger, but we can't do it on our own," said Bonnie Leung, vice-convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, a major protest organizer. 

Meanwhile, another group of protesters is planning a rally on Sunday at the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong to show their support for the "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act," a bill co-authored by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida in the U.S. The bill would mandate that officials in China and Hong Kong who have "committed serious human rights abuses" be subject to sanctions, Rubio wrote in an opinion column in The Washington Post this week.

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