ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images(HONG KONG) — Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam acquiesced, at least in part, to massive protests in the city this week as she announced Saturday the controversial extradition bill will be suspended indefinitely.
"The original urgency to pass the bill in this legislative year is perhaps no longer there,” Lam said at a press conference. "After repeated internal deliberations over the last two days, I now announce that the government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise."
It was unclear how the announcement would affect protests, already scheduled over the weekend. A march was planned for Sunday, and there were also calls for another protest to take place Monday when lawmakers returned to work.
The streets of Hong Kong were calm and quiet Friday after days of protests over the government's controversial proposal to change an extradition law that would allow individuals to be sent to mainland China for trial.
A largely peaceful march, which organizers said drew over a million people in sweltering heat, took place in central Hong Kong last Sunday. The situation turned violent three days later when the extradition law amendment was scheduled to be introduced for debate in the city's legislature.
Thousands of mostly-young protesters shut down Hong Kong's Legislative Council complex and paralyzed parts of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory on Wednesday. Riot police fired multiple rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the throngs of demonstrators, who hurled bottles, umbrellas and other objects at them.
At least 72 people were injured, including 22 police officers. Eleven people were arrested for disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly, assaulting officers and riot-related activities stemming from Wednesday's protests, authorities said.
Heavy rain prevented most organizers from carrying out fresh demonstrations the following day. Still, the president of the Legislative Council cancelled all planned sessions again Thursday and Friday, pushing debate on the bill to next week.
Under the extradition law amendment, any country — including China — could request the extradition of an individual to their home country from Hong Kong for trial. Many who oppose the proposed legislation fear that China could use it to arrest political dissidents.
The bill was scheduled to be voted on June 20. Lam had said she planned to sign it.
However, some of Lam's supporters signaling a possible delay in the legislation prior to Saturday's announced suspension. Her top aide, Bernard Chan, seemed to test the waters during an interview Friday morning with the public broadcasting service, Radio Television Hong Kong, in which he admitted to underestimating the business community's opposition to the new law. He also said he didn't want a single bill to hold up the entire legislative agenda.
“I think it is impossible to discuss [it] under such confrontation. It would be very difficult,” Chan told RTHK. “At the very least we should not escalate the antagonism.”
Michael Tien, a pro-Beijing legislator who's usually an ally of Lam, also called for a delay in a Facebook post on Friday, saying it should be seen as the politically responsible thing to do, not as a concession.
Meanwhile, 27 former Hong Kong government officials and lawmakers issued a joint statement on Friday, urging Lam to "yield to public opinion" and withdraw the bill, calling on her ministers to resign in protest if she doesn't. They criticized Lam for appearing "unmoved" by Wednesday's "bloody conflict" between police and protesters.
"This is our future generation to be cherished, how can anyone with a heart not be pained to see the treatment they received?" they said in a statement. "A deeply divided society, serious concerns of the international community — are these the sacrifices to be made to satisfy the will of the Chief Executive? What great public interest is supposed to be served by the hurried passage of this bill? Where will this escalation of police force to suppress protest lead Hong Kong?"
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