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Hong Kong extradition bill officially killed, but move unlikely to end unrest

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Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee officially withdraws the extradition bill at the Legislative Council complex in Hong Kong on Oct 23, 2019.

[HONG KONG] Hong Kong's legislature on Wednesday formally withdrew planned legislation that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but the move was unlikely to end months of unrest as it met just one of five demands of pro-democracy protesters.

The rallying cry of the protesters, who have trashed public buildings in the Chinese-ruled city, set street fires and thrown petrol bombs at police, has been "five demands, not one less", meaning the withdrawal of the bill make no difference.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam had said many times the bill was as good as dead and said that other demands, including universal suffrage and an amnesty for all those charged with rioting, were beyond her control.

Protesters are also calling for her to stand down and for an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality during a long hot summer of running battles on the streets.

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"There aren't any big differences between suspension and withdrawal (of the extradition bill)... It's too little, too late," said 27-year-old protester Connie, hours before the bill was withdrawn. "There are still other demands the government needs to meet, especially the problem of police brutality."

Police have responded to the violence with water cannon, tear gas, rubber bullets and several live rounds.

Protesters are angry at what they see as Beijing encroaching on the former British colony's "one country, two systems" formula enshrined during the handover in 1997, which permits the city wide-ranging freedoms not available on the mainland such as an independent judiciary.

The extradition bill would have allowed defendants charged with serious crimes to be sent for trial abroad, including to Communist Party-controlled courts in China.

The bill was seen as the latest move by Beijing to erode those freedoms. China has denied these claims and accuses foreign countries of fomenting trouble.

A murder suspect whose case Mrs Lam had originally held up as showing the need for the extradition bill walked free on Wednesday as the city's government squabbled with Taiwan over how to handle his potential voluntary surrender to authorities.

Chan Tong-kai, a Hong Kong citizen, was accused of murdering his girlfriend in Taiwan last year before fleeing back to the financial hub. Chan was arrested by Hong Kong police in March 2018 and authorities there were only able to find evidence against him for money laundering, for which he was sentenced to 29 months in prison.

Chan has offered to voluntarily surrender himself to Taiwan, but both Hong Kong and Taiwan have clashed over the next steps.

"There's no such thing as surrender," Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen told reporters. "There's only arrest... We will continue to ask for legal assistance from the Hong Kong government, including providing related evidence and to ask the Hong Kong government not to evade the matter."

Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee said Taiwan, which China claims as its own, was obstructing the case.

REUTERS