Hong Kong leader to announce withdrawal of controversial extradition bill: source

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam will announce on Wednesday the formal withdrawal of an extradition bill that triggered months of unrest and has thrown the Chinese-controlled territory into its worst crisis in decades, Hong Kong Cable Television and other media said.

A government source confirmed the reports to Reuters.

The protests in the former British colony began in June over the bill, which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have since evolved into a push for greater democracy.

It was not immediately clear if the announcement, which the South China Morning Post newspaper said was due later on Wednesday, would help end the unrest. The immediate reaction appeared skeptical and muted and the real gauge will be how many people take to the streets.

Many are furious at perceived police brutality and the number of arrests — 1,183 at the latest count — and want an independent inquiry.

Both the chief executive’s office and China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Michael Tien, a member of Hong Kong’s legislature and a deputy to China’s national parliament, said the government should withdraw the bill and that he would support an inquiry commission.

“The government should withdraw the bill. If the government mentioned [a withdrawal] in June it would have stopped already,” he told reporters, referring to the protests.

Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng Index jumped after the report, trading up about 3.3 per cent. The property index also jumped six per cent.

The withdrawal of the draft legislation was one of the protesters’ key demands. Lam has said before that the bill was “dead” but she did not withdraw it.

Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows it to keep freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, like the freedom to protest and an independent legal system, hence the anger at the extradition bill and perceived creeping influence by Beijing.

‘Unforgivable havoc’

Lam told business leaders last week that she had caused “unforgivable havoc” by introducing the bill and that if she had a choice she would apologize and resign, according to a leaked audio recording.

At the closed-door meeting, Lam told the group that she now has “very limited” room to resolve the crisis because the unrest has become a national security and sovereignty issue for China amid rising tensions with the United States.

In leaked audio recordings obtained by Reuters, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam can be heard saying she has caused “unforgivable havoc” for introducing a controversial extradition bill. 0:32

China has denounced the protests and warned about the impact on Hong Kong’s economy

China denies it is meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs but warned again on Tuesday that it would not sit idly by if the unrest threatened Chinese security and sovereignty.

Riot police fired beanbag guns and used pepper spray — both anti-riot weapons — on Tuesday to clear demonstrators from outside the Mong Kok police station and in Prince Edward metro station, with one man taken out on a stretcher with an oxygen mask over his face, television footage showed.

Videos showing the man being apprehended by the police in the station have been widely shared on social media with protest groups and activists saying it is evidence of the police brutality they say is widespread and needs to be investigated.

This still image taken from a handout video obtained by Reuters shows police detaining a protester at a metro station in Hong Kong. (Reuters)

The police, who have repeatedly denied using excessive force, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Three men, aged between 21 and 42, were taken to Kwong Wa Hospital late on Tuesday, a hospital authority spokesperson said.

Two, including the man stretchered out of Prince Edward station, were in a stable condition and one had been discharged, she said.

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