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HK Leader Delays Extradition Bill      06/15 09:12

   The leader of Hong Kong shelved an unpopular extradition bill in an attempt 
to quell public anger and protests.

   HONG KONG (AP) -- Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam sought to quell 
public anger Saturday by shelving an unpopular extradition bill that has 
highlighted apprehension about relations with mainland China, but opponents of 
the measure said it was not enough.

   Activists said they were still planning a mass protest for Sunday, a week 
after hundreds of thousands marched to demand Lam drop the legislation, which 
many fear would undermine freedoms enjoyed by this former British colony but 
not elsewhere in China.

   The battle over the proposal to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance to 
allow some suspects to face trial in mainland Chinese courts has evolved into 
Hong Kong's most severe political test since the Communist Party-ruled mainland 
took control in 1997 with a promise not to interfere with the city's civil 
liberties and courts.

   Critics said Lam should withdraw the plan for good, resign and apologize for 
police use of potentially lethal force during clashes with protesters on 
Wednesday.

   "Democrats in Hong Kong simply cannot accept this suspension decision," said 
lawmaker Claudia Mo. "Because the suspension is temporary. The pain is still 
there."

   The decision was "too little, too late," she said. 

   "Hong Kong people have been lied to so many times," said Bonny Leung, a 
leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, one of the groups that has helped 
organize the demonstrations.

   Lam has said the legislation is needed if Hong Kong to uphold justice, meet 
its international obligations and not become a magnet for fugitives. The 
proposed bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include 
Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.

   China has been excluded from Hong Kong's extradition agreements because of 
concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record.

   Speaking to reporters after announcing her decision Saturday, Lam 
sidestepped questions over whether she should quit. She insisted she was not 
withdrawing the proposed amendment and defended the police.

   But she 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."

   "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."

   She emphasized that a chief concern was to avoid further injuries both for 
the public and for police. About 80 people were hurt in the clashes earlier in 
the week, more than 20 of them police.

   "It's possible there might be even worse confrontations that might be 
replaced by very serious injuries to my police colleagues and the public," she 
said. "I don't want any of those injuries to happen."

   Lam apologized for what she said were failures in her government's work to 
win public support for the bill, which is opposed by a wide range of sectors in 
Hong Kong, including many teachers, students, lawyers and trade unions.

   But she insisted the bill is still needed. 

   "Give us another chance," she said. 

   Beijing-appointed Lam said she had the central government's backing for her 
decision to yield to the protests. A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, 
said in a statement Saturday that the Chinese government "expresses support, 
respect and understanding" for Lam's decision.

   Many analysts believe that given deep public frustration over expanding 
control from Beijing under President Xi Jinping, China's strongest leader in 
decades, Lam might eventually have to abandon the plan altogether.

   "If there's more mass action this week that doesn't degenerate into 
smashing, they will have to," said Ken Courtis, an investment banker who has 
worked in Hong Kong off and on for many years.

   The anger seen in the streets has been directed squarely at Lam and the Hong 
Kong government, not Beijing, he notes.

   "Young people continue to be very dissatisfied," said Courtis, chairman of 
Starfort Investment Holdings. "The economy's not growing like people thought it 
would grow."

   Lam acknowledged that the government needed to tackle other issues, 
especially a dire lack of affordable housing. She also cited the economy as a 
concern.

   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.

   But analysts say China also has to weigh the risk of seeing Hong Kong, a 
vital port and financial center of 7 million people, possibly losing its 
special economic status.

   Under the 1992 U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act, Beijing needs to abide by its "one 
country, two systems" promises to respect the territory's legal autonomy for 50 
years as promised under the agreement signed with Britain for the 1997 handover.

   Already, many here believe the territory's legal autonomy has been 
significantly diminished despite Beijing's insistence that it is still honoring 
those promises.

   Prosecutions of activists, detentions without trial of five Hong Kong book 
publishers and the illegal seizure in Hong Kong by mainland agents of at least 
one mainland businessman are among the moves in recent years that have 
undermined that

   In may well be in China's interest to help Hong Kong's role as a financial 
center to grow in importance given the current extreme trade tensions with the 
U.S.

   Much hinges on whether protests persist or again turn violent, Courtis said. 

   "That is a limit, a brake of common sense of how far Beijing would push 
these things," he said. "The last thing Beijing wants, with all this trouble 
with Washington, is that Hong Kong boils over." 


(CZ)

 
 
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