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Hong Kong leader says she'll withdraw proposed extradition bill behind massive protests

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has announced she will formally withdraw the proposed extradition bill that has sparked months of protests, "to full allay public concerns," but protesters say they want all their demands met.

Bill would have OK'd extradition of suspects to mainland China for prosecution in communist-controlled courts

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has announced she'll withdraw the much-despised extradition bill, which would have allowed for the extradition of crime suspects to mainland China. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has announced she will formally withdraw the proposed extradition bill that sparked months of protests.

"The government will formally withdraw the bill in order to fully allay public concerns," she said in a recorded television message Wednesday.

"Our foremost priority now is to end violence, to safeguard the rule of law and to restore order and safety in society. As such, the government has to strictly enforce the law against all violent and illegal acts," she said.

"Lingering violence is damaging the very foundations of our society, especially the rule of law," Lam said.

The proposed law would allow for the extradition of crime suspects to mainland China for prosecution in courts controlled by the Communist Party.

The protests began in March, but gained momentum in June and have since evolved into a push for five demands, including the proposed bill's withdrawal.

The other demands are:

  • Retraction of the word "riot" to describe rallies.
  • Release of all arrested demonstrators.
  • An independent inquiry into perceived brutality of the police.
  • The right for people in Hong Kong to democratically choose their own leaders.

"Until the five demands are met, I don't think the protests and the social movement will stop," said Leung Yiu Ting, acting president of the student union at Education University in Hong Kong.

Watch Carrie Lam as she makes the announcement regarding the controversial bill:

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill that sparked months of protests in the Chinese-controlled territory. 0:54

"I don't think she chose a good timing to announce such a withdrawal; now it's coming a bit too late."

Lam announced in early July that the bill was "dead," but had not withdrawn it.

"Too little, too late," Joshua Wong, one of the most prominent voices in the pro-democracy movement, said on social media upon hearing news of the withdrawal announcement.

"Technically speaking, the bill still exists, because until the day the Hong Kong Legislative Council completely passes the motion to withdraw the bill, it still exists in the legislative program," Wong told CBC News, speaking from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan.

Watch Joshua Wong's reaction to the bill being withdrawn:

Activist Joshua Wong talks to CBC about the short-term and long-term goals of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong 5:17

Wong said the pro-democracy fight will continue to back demands for such things as free elections in Hong Kong.

Many activists, angry over perceived police brutality and the arrests of nearly 1,200 protesters, have been calling for an independent inquiry into police actions.

Clashes between police and protesters have become increasingly violent, with demonstrators throwing gasoline bombs and rods at officers in protests last weekend. Authorities in turn have employed water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and batons.

CBC's Adrienne Arsenault gauges reaction to Lam's announcement:

CBC's Adrienne Arsenault is in Hong Kong, gauging reaction to the move by Carrie Lam 4:29

Michael Tien, a member of Hong Kong's legislature and a deputy to China's national parliament, has said he would support an inquiry commission.

In her speech, Lam said she and other officials "will reach out to the community to start a direct dialogue," adding they "must find ways to address the discontent in society and look for solutions."

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has welcomed Lam's withdrawal of the extradition bill from Britain's former colony.

"These are welcome confidence-building steps," Raab said in a statement. "I hope they lead to meaningful dialogue between the Hong Kong government and the people it serves."

Shares on Hong Kong's Hang Seng index jumped four per cent on news of the planned withdrawal of the proposed bill.

In her televised address, Lam said the social unrest shows discontentment "extends far beyond the bill." She said it covers political, economic and social issues.

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty in July 1997 under a "one-country, two-systems" formula that allowed it to keep freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, like the freedom to protest and an independent legal system, hence the anger at the proposed extradition bill and perceived creeping influence by Beijing.

'Unforgivable havoc'

Lam told business leaders last week that she had caused "unforgivable havoc" by introducing the bill and given a choice, she would apologize and resign, according to a leaked audio recording.

At the closed-door meeting, Lam told the group she now has "very limited" room to resolve the crisis because the unrest has become a national security and sovereignty issue for China amid rising tensions with the United States.

Listen to Lam's comments from last week:

In leaked audio recordings obtained by Reuters, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam can be heard saying she has caused "unforgivable havoc" for introducing a controversial extradition bill. 0:32

With files from The Associated Press

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