Pressure mounts on Hong Kong leader over Chinese extradition plan

FRENCH PRESS AGENCY - AFP
Hong Kong
Published 15.06.2019 00:19

Hong Kong's embattled leader faced mounting pressure on Friday to abandon a deeply unpopular plan to allow extraditions to China as key allies urged a rethink following unprecedented political unrest.

The international finance hub was rocked by the worst political violence since its 1997 handover to China from Britain on Wednesday as tens of thousands of protesters were dispersed by riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets in the city's government district.

Opposition to the extradition bill has united an unusually wide cross section of Hong Kong against the proposal and sparked huge rallies.

The city's pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam has so far refused to meet protester demands to withdraw or scrap the bill.

Nn Friday however Lam found herself facing calls from within her own political camp to reverse course and tamp down spiraling public anger.

Prominent pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Tien openly called on Lam to postpone the bill. "She would gain points instead of losing points," he told reporters.

"Nothing is ever too late. New situations arise that would provide the basis for any leader to change their position. There's nothing wrong with that."

Tien's comments came as Lam's own advisor said pushing ahead with fast-tracking the bill through the city's legislature had now become "impossible".

"Personally I can see that it is impossible to discuss (the bill) when there is so much conflict on all sides. It is very difficult," Bernard Chan told RTHK radio.

"At the very least we should not escalate the antagonism," he added, although he stopped short of saying whether the bill should be scrapped.

Chan sits on the Executive Council, the equivalent of a cabinet, and was appointed by Lam two years ago to be a top advisor. Executive council member Ronny Tong has also suggested having a consultation on the bill before progressing, according to broadcaster RTHK.

The comments are the first indication that supporters of the extradition law are now having second thoughts following a growing public backlash.

Last Sunday, protest organizers said more than one million people came out for the largest protest the business hub has seen in decades. Protest leaders were set to meet police Friday to discuss their plans for another mass rally this Sunday, which had yet to be officially approved.

Leading democratic figures said only the complete withdrawal of the bill would stop future protests and calm public anger. "We can't trust the pro-establishment lawmakers," said pro-democracy lawmaker Alvin Leung. "We need Carrie Lam's response on whether she will withdraw the bill."

Lam's determination to press ahead with a debate on the bill in parliament on Wednesday sparked another huge protest that descended into violence and brought the city's commercial district to a standstill.

Young Hong Kongers, angered by years of sliding democratic freedoms in the city, have been at the forefront of the protests. The extradition plan however has also received a barrage of criticism from legal bodies, business groups, religious figures and Western nations who fear the proposal would tangle both locals and foreigners up in China's politicized and opaque courts.

China's ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, has rejected claims that Beijing was behind the extradition bill, telling the BBC that the "Beijing central government gave no instruction, no order.... This amendment was initiated by the Hong Kong government."

Under the expired 99-year lease agreement which saw Hong Jong transferred over from British rule, the city was to remain distinctly independent from China, under the auspices of "One Country, Two Systems," until 2047. The mass protest movement is seen by many of its participants as not just an outcry against what is perceived to be authoritarian legislation, by China's influence over Hong Kong as a whole.

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