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Hong Kong leader says extradition bill is 'dead' after mass protests

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Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday the extradition bill that sparked the territory's biggest political crisis in decades was dead, admitting that the government's work on the bill had been a "total failure".

[HONG KONG] Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday the extradition bill that sparked the territory's biggest political crisis in decades was "dead", admitting that the government's work on the bill had been a "total failure".

But Ms Lam's attempt to restore order in the Asian financial hub and cling to her job did not satisfy many protesters who demanded she completely withdraw the bill and charged her with playing word games by declaring the bill dead.

The bill, which would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to face trial, sparked huge and at times violent street protests and plunged the former British colony into turmoil.

In mid-June, Lam responded to protests that drew hundreds of thousands of people into the streets by suspending the bill.

On Tuesday she admitted "there are still lingering doubts about the government's sincerity or worries whether the government will restart the process in the legislative council".

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"So, I reiterate here, there is no such plan, the bill is dead," she told a news conference. 

NOT SATISFIED

Yet she declined to use the word "withdraw" - a demand chanted by the hundreds of thousands of protesters who have massed across the city.

Ms Lam's declaration appeared to be a win for opponents of the bill, but it was not immediately clear if it would be enough to satisfy them. 

Her remarks were greeted with scepticism from opposition lawmakers and protesters, who turned out in record numbers seeking a complete withdrawal of the bill even after her June 15 decision to "pause" efforts to pass the legislation. 

"It’s too little, too late, and too fake," said Claudia Mo, an opposition lawmaker who has helped coordinate a series of peaceful marches through the city. "She thinks she can play with words and things can just die down. She really treats people with this parental attitude."

The Civil Human Rights Front, which has organised the biggest protests against the bill, said it would brief reporters at noon outside the city’s government headquarters.

University students who have made up the bulk of protesters shrugged off Ms Lam's latest comments, saying nothing more than a full withdrawal of the bill will do.

"What we want is to completely withdraw the bill. She is playing word games," said Chan Wai Lam William, general officer of the student union at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Analyst Dixon Sing said it was unlikely protesters would be satisfied by Lam's latest statement.

"Trust in the government has sunk to such a record level that if there's not a clear fulfillment of the (key) demands, the majority of the Hong Kong public will still be very sceptical of the government's sincerity," Mr Sing told AFP.

CALLS FOR RESIGNATION

Demonstrators have called for Ms Lam to resign as Hong Kong's Chief Executive (CE), for an independent investigation into police actions against protesters, and for the government to abandon the description of a violent protest on June 12 as a riot.

"It is not a simple thing for CE to step down, and I myself still have the passion and undertaking to service Hong Kong people," she said when asked about the protesters' demands.

"I hope that Hong Kong society can give me and my team the opportunity and room to allow us to use our new governance style to response to people's demand in economy and in livelihood."

Chief Executives of Hong Kong are selected by a small committee of pro-establishment figures stacked in Beijing's favour and formally appointed by China's central government. Ms Lam's resignation would require Beijing's approval, experts say.

China has called the protests an "undisguised challenge" to the "one country, two systems" model under which Hong Kong has been ruled for 22 years since it was handed back to China.

Hong Kong was returned to China from Britain in 1997 with the promise of a high degree of autonomy, but in recent years there has been growing concern about the erosion of those freedoms at the hands of Beijing.

The crisis over the extradition bill has been the biggest challenge Beijing has faced to its rule in the territory in the 22 years since it re-gained control over Hong Kong.

The planned bill triggered outrage across broad sections of Hong Kong society amid concerns it would threaten the much-cherished rule of law that underpins the city's international financial status.

Ms Lam's appearance on Tuesday was her first since a rare pre-dawn news conference a week ago after protesters besieged and ransacked the legislative building in the heart of the city.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the right to protest and an independent judiciary.

Lawyers and rights groups say China's justice system is marked by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detention, claims that Beijing denies.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AFP

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