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Hong Kong leader to withdraw China extradition bill, but will it stop the protests?

Hong Kong leader pulls extradition bill

Hong Kong — The embattled leader of Hong Kong announced Wednesday that she was withdrawing a massively controversial extradition bill that would have given Beijing the power to spirit people away into China's opaque legal system. It's the bill that sparked the huge anti-government protests, which are now in their third month. But abandoning it at this stage appeared unlikely to quash the unrest.

It was a huge U-turn from Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam; the Beijing-appointed leader of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory had previously said there was no room for compromise.

But protesters weren't celebrating the reversal on Wednesday. They called it too little, too late. Withdrawing the extradition bill is only one of five demands being made by the leaders of the pro-democracy movement. 

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"I'm glad it's finally done, but it's not sufficient," Bonnie Leung, co-convener of Hong Kong's Civil Human Rights Front, told CBS News on Wednesday. "Five demands, not one less," she said.

The protesters also want an independent inquiry into police brutality. Jarring images of Hong Kong police beating and pepper spraying terrified people in a subway, believed, but not confirmed to be protesters, have galvanized those calls.

The anti-government protests are now in their 14th week, and that may be one of the biggest reasons for Lam's reversal. Millions of people have hit the streets since June 9, demanding she revoke the bill.

The protests have become more violent. Extreme members of the movement have assaulted government offices in the city with firebombs, and others jammed the roads and rail links to the airport to gain international attention.

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October 1 also looms large on the horizon; this year is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Every five years there is a massive military celebration in Beijing to mark the occasion.

China's Communist Party doesn't want anything to tarnish that day in the eyes of the world. Lam's climb-down could be an attempt to save face before Hong Kong's crisis tarnishes it even more.  

Earlier this week, there was an embarrassing leaked audio of Lam admitting she would resign if she could. The implication was that she is firmly controlled by Beijing, something many Hong Kongers were already convinced of.

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Bonnie Leung, vice convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), is seen during an interview in Hong Kong, August 20, 2019. Getty

The day after the audio was leaked to the Reuters news agency, she said she never tendered her resignation, and people came to distrust her even more. 

"If an olive branch is given (by the Hong Kong government) then we will discuss openly with them," Leung told CBS News. 

The protesters are also demanding that Lam resign.

"It would be good because she's hated. I don't like hating anyone, but she was lying from the audio tape" that was leaked to Reuters, Leung said. She vowed that even if the government's decision to meet one of the demands calms the protests, she and the other leaders of the movement won't pack it in.

"If people decide it's enough then they will go home. It's the choice of the people," Leung said. "The movement may die down a bit. People may calm down, but we will still fight for universal suffrage."

That is another key demand by the protesters; to elect their own leader directly in an election where every citizen gets a vote. Right now, that power belongs to Beijing. 

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