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Hong Kong protests

Hong Kong chief signals revival of extradition bill is unlikely

Carrie Lam apologizes in person, asks for 'another chance'

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference in Hong Kong on June 18. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam suggested on Tuesday that a controversial extradition proposal is likely to expire next year as she issued her second apology for turmoil stemming from the plan. Many residents have expressed fears that the bill could undermine the city's independent judiciary and autonomy.

Referring to the mass protests and rallies that have rocked the city in recent weeks, Lam said, "I have heard you loud and clear."

"I offer my most sincere apology to all people of Hong Kong," she said at a news conference.

Lam said that because the bill "has caused so much anxiety and worries and differences in opinion, I will not proceed again with this legislative exercise if these fears and anxieties could not be adequately addressed."

Lam said that the suspended bill could eventually die in the Legislative Council, noting that the body's current term ends in July 2020, after which time the bill "will no longer have validity."

While not directly addressing calls to resign, Lam acknowledged that she needed to do more to address public concerns and asked for "another chance" to lead Hong Kong.

"I have never spared any effort to serve the public, but this incident has made me realize that as chief executive I still [have] much to learn and do in better balancing diverse interests [and] in listening more," she said. Lam admitted that her governance work in the future will be "difficult."

During the recent protests, "We saw many people who love Hong Kong taking to the streets to make their views known to the government," Lam said. "To those young people who have participated peacefully to express their views, let me say, I understand you expect your chief executive to listen to different voices and to respect and care for young people."

The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized the protest marches, refused to accept Lam's televised apology on Tuesday. The group is demanding five conditions, including the resignation of Lam and the complete withdrawal of the bill. "Unless our five requests are fulfilled, we will keep fighting," said Jimmy Sham, a member of the group.

Protesters attend a demonstration demanding Hong Kong's leaders to step down and withdraw the extradition bill, in Hong Kong on June 17.   © Reuters

The press conference on Tuesday represented Lam's second apology for the turmoil. As an estimated 2 million people marched through the streets demanding the complete withdrawal of the bill and calling for Lam's resignation on Sunday, her office issued a statement saying, "The chief executive would like to extend her apologies to people in Hong Kong, and will accept criticism with the utmost sincerity and the most humble attitude."

The day before, Lam had said at a news conference that she was suspending planned legislative debate on the bill.

The legislation, which would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be transferred to the mainland where many believe they would not receive a fair trial, has sparked strong opposition among pan-democratic political parties, business groups, lawyers and ordinary citizens. Opponents fear the law would damage the city's reputation as a financial hub safeguarded by an independent judiciary, something China lacks.

Sunday's massive rally followed demonstrations last Wednesday around government headquarters that devolved into violent clashes between police and protesters and a march of around 1 million people on June 9.

Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung has faced strong criticism for describing last Wednesday's clashes as a "riot," which could open up protesters to more serious charges. Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray against the protesters, some of whom had hurled bricks at officers.

Protest organizers have demanded that those arrested at Wednesday's demonstrations not face prosecution and that those demonstrations not be categorized as a riot.

Lo backpedaled on the riot categorization on Monday night, saying that most of the demonstrators were "not considered as rioters." He said the crowd was mostly peaceful and participants need not worry about rioting charges if they did not engage in violence. Lam on Tuesday expressed agreement with Lo's clarifications.

Five people have been arrested for rioting while 10 others have been arrested for other offenses relating to violence since last Wednesday. An additional 17 people have been arrested for lesser charges, including loitering, failure to present identification and possessing tools for illegal purposes.

"It has become clear that Hong Kong people's demands fell on deaf ears," said Ray Chan Chi-chuen, an opposition legislator, noting Lam's refusal to resign or formally withdraw the extradition bill. He said that he expects people "will take to the streets again in massive numbers and keep enormous pressure on the government" until Lam steps down.

Nikkei staff writer Michelle Chan contributed to this article.

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