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HK leader Lam withdraws contentious extradition Bill
HONG KONG'S embattled leader Carrie Lam said she has formally withdrawn legislation to allow extraditions to China, an about-face that may help ease - but not end - months of unrest in the Asian financial centre.
She announced the move in a televised address on Wednesday, after a meeting with pro-establishment politicians, including local legislators and the city's representatives to national legislative bodies. She also announced an independent study of the government's performance and reaffirmed her commitment to reviewing the police's response to the protests.
Seated at a desk with her hands clasped together, she said: "The things that have happened in the past two months have made everyone shocked and sad. People are anxious. They want to move on from the current deadlock now."
The move follows weekend demonstrations that pitted protesters against riot police. Activists lobbed petrol bombs and set fires in the streets; police officers fired tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray.
Hong Kong stocks jumped after news reports said Mrs Lam would formally withdraw the extradition Bill that has sparked months of protests. The benchmark Hang Seng Index rose 3.9 per cent, the biggest gain since November.
The turmoil that followed Mrs Lam's attempt to introduce the ill-fated Bill has become the biggest crisis for Beijing's rule over the former British colony since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Aggressive police tactics, threats by Beijing to deploy troops and sweeping arrests of pro-democracy figures have raised fears about Hong Kong's autonomy and drawn international condemnation.
Mrs Lam had previously suspended the Bill, but that did little to appease the demonstrators, who continued protesting and expanded their demands to include calls for greater democratic freedom.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the formal withdrawal would end the protests. The action meets only one of five main demands, which include calls for an independent commission of inquiry into police violence and an amnesty for those who have been arrested.
Pro-democratic law-maker Alvin Yeung said the move won't go far enough for the protesters, but Samson Yuen, an assistant professor of political science at Lingnan University, said it could ease anger and quell the violence, even if, on its own, it is unlikely to appease demands for greater democracy and accountability over police tactics.
The extradition Bill was originally proposed by Hong Kong's government in February and covered mainland China and other jurisdictions that don't have an extradition agreement with Hong Kong. Mrs Lam and the law's backers originally defended it as necessary to ensure that the city wouldn't become a refuge for suspected fugitives.
Pro-establishment law-maker Felix Chung said withdrawing the Bill would "certainly" help.
"But whether the impact will be a huge one or not, I'm not sure - we would have to wait and see. At least it's a positive move, even if it's a bit late." BLOOMBERG