World

HK leader signals end to extradition bill

By AAP Newswire

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has signalled the end of a controversial extradition bill that she promoted and then postponed after some of the largest protests since the 1997 return of the former British colony to China.

Lam on Tuesday apologised for the turmoil in a press conference but refused to say the bill would be "withdrawn", only that it wouldn't be reintroduced during her time in office if public fears persist.

This was the strongest indicator yet that the government was effectively shelving legislation that would allow people to be extradited to mainland China to face trial, even if it fell short of demands to scrap the bill altogether.

"Because this bill over the past few months has caused so much anxiety, and worries and differences in opinion, I will not, this is an undertaking, I will not proceed again with this legislative exercise if these fears and anxieties cannot be adequately addressed," Lam told reporters.

Lam, appearing both contrite and defiant, used much of the same language as a previous press conference on Saturday when she announced a postponement of the bill. A day later, about two million people spilled on to the streets, many demanding that she step down.

Lam, asked repeatedly whether she would quit, refused to do so.

But she apologised for plunging the city into major upheaval, saying she had heard the people "loud and clear" and would try to rebuild trust.

Alvin Yeung, a democratic lawmaker, said Lam had failed again to lower the political temperature in the city of seven million.

"Hong Kong will not accept this," Yeung said.

Lam's climb-down, with the approval of China's Communist Party leaders, was the biggest policy reversal since 1997 and presented a new challenge for Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Since the proposed amendments to the Fugitives Offenders' Ordinance were first put to the legislature in February, Lam has repeatedly rebuffed concerns voiced in many quarters, including business groups, lawyers, judges, and foreign governments, against the bill.

Critics said the bill would undermine Hong Kong's independent judiciary and rule of law - guaranteed by the "one country, two systems" formula under which Hong Kong returned to China - by extending China's reach into the city and allowing individuals to be arbitrarily sent back to China where they couldn't be guaranteed a fair trial.

Lam, a career civil-servant known as "the fighter" for her straight-shooting and tough leadership style, took office two years ago pledging to heal a divided society.