The Hong Kong government has suspended its controversial bill to allow people to be extradited to mainland China. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Saturday said the government was backing down on the bill after itin the city.
Activists, however, demanded she withdraw the legislation and urged Hong Kong residents to turn out Sunday for another mass protest against the proposal, which would enable authorities to send some suspects to stand trial in courts in mainland China.
Members of the Civil Human Rights Front group said Lam should resign and apologize for the police use of potentially lethal force during.
In a news briefing earlier, Lam said she was suspending the bill indefinitely. It was time, she said, "for responsible government to restore as quickly as possible this calmness in society."
She also sidestepped questions over whether she should quit. She insisted she was not withdrawing the proposed amendment to the extradition law and defended the police.
Many in the former British colony worry the proposed bill would further erode cherished legal protections and freedoms. Appearing cheerful but occasionally frustrated over repeated questions over whether she would resign, Lam said the government would study the matter further, for the "greatest interest of Hong Kong."
"After repeated internal deliberations over the last two days, I now announce that the government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise," Lam said.
"I want to stress that the government is adopting an open mind," she said. "We have no intention to set a deadline for this work."
Lam apologized for what she said were failures in her government's work to convince and reassure the public, but said she has not withdrawn the bill. She said she would "adopt a sincere and humble attitude in accepting criticism" over the government's handling of the issue.
A protest Wednesday turned violent with clashes with police, leaving about 80 people injured including 22 police officers.
The standoff between police and protesters in the former British colony escalated into Hong Kong's most severe political crisis since the Communist Party-ruled mainland took control in 1997 with a promise not to interfere with the city's civil liberties and courts.
Lam, chosen by Beijing to be the highest-level local official, was caught between her Communist Party bosses and a public anxious to protect the liberties they enjoy as a former British colony. Lam said the legislation is still needed to address various deficiencies in Hong Kong's law.
The extradition bill has drawn criticism from U.S. and British lawmakers and human rights groups, prompting Beijing to lash back with warnings against "interference" in its internal affairs.
Some critics warned Hong Kong might lose its special economic status, conferred by measures such as the 1992 U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act, if the legislation further undermined the territory's legal autonomy.
To keep Hong Kong's special status as a customs territory, Beijing needs to abide by its "one country, two systems" promises to respect the territory's legal autonomy for 50 years as promised, analysts said.