HONG KONG -- Hong Kong's political and business establishment sought to move on from days of protests and demonstrations on Wednesday, but activists vowed to keep up their campaign for the withdrawal of a controversial bill that would allow the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China.
The city's Legislative Council convened for the first time since protesters besieged its offices on June 12 to block discussion of the bill. Opposition legislators pressed Secretary for Security John Lee for answers on why police had deployed rubber bullets, tear gas and other riot gear against the protesters and asked for his resignation.
More than 80 demonstrators and police were injured in the street clashes. Lee apologized and accepted responsibility for the social divisions generated by the government's drive for the extradition law, public broadcaster RTHK reported.
"I am part of the team that took on the legislative exercise," Lee said. "Of course I have to take responsibility."
Police also on Wednesday released without charge eight of 32 demonstrators arrested after the June 12 clashes, RTHK reported.
Lee's apology followed one a day before from Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the head of the government, in a televised news conference. Lam separately sent a note of apology to government staff for the disruption and anxiety caused by the political confrontation over the bill.
"The deficiencies lie in my less than adequate judgment of the sensitivity of the subject matter and the handling of the process," she said in her letter.
Aron Harilela, chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, the city's broadest business group, followed up on Lam's apology by saying, "We hope that this will draw a line under this unfortunate episode and that life in Hong Kong returns to normal as soon as possible."
The protests around government offices have seen roads in the central business district repeatedly blocked, forcing some employers to advise staff to work from home and one of the city's high-end shopping malls to close at times.
For two consecutive Sundays, more than a million Hong Kong residents, by organizers' count, have filled main roads through the city center, marching to express worries that the extradition bill could undermine the city's independent judiciary and raise the risk anyone could be sent to jail in the mainland.
Harilela, a hotelier, said that the chamber wants Hong Kong to refocus its "energy into getting our great city and the economy back on track."
While Lam has suspended further discussion of the extradition bill and promised not to revive it unless the public's fears are assuaged, she has declined to withdraw it outright.
This is proving insufficient for political activists. The Hong Kong Federation of Students, which brings together student unions from several local universities, called for protesters to surround government headquarters on Friday if the extradition bill is not formally withdrawn, RTHK reported.
Offering his own call for sustained pressure, Martin Lee Chu-ming, former head of the Democratic Party, noted in an opinion column in the local Chinese-language newspaper Apple Daily that Lam has not acknowledged that the government's proposal itself was flawed.
"If the bad China extradition law is not withdrawn, we are not going to accept it," he wrote.
Lam has also come under criticism from fellow alumni of Hong Kong's St. Francis' Canossian College. Some 150 graduates published a full-page ad in Apple Daily saying they were "ashamed" of Lam. Adding that they felt "deep regret that she did not reply to the requests made by citizens," they called for Lam to resign, a request also frequently voiced by weekend marchers.
Additional reporting by Nikkei Asian Review chief business news correspondent Kenji Kawase and Nikkei staff writer Coco Liu.