HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s embattled government looks set to press pause on a deeply unpopular extradition bill that has provoked unprecedented clashes between police and protesters, multiple local media outlets reported Saturday.
The city’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam has faced mounting calls to abandon the controversial legislation, including from her own political allies and advisers.
The international finance hub was rocked by the worst political violence since its 1997 handover to China on Wednesday as tens of thousands of protesters were dispersed by riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
As criticism mounted – and signs emerged of a growing discomfort among party leaders in Beijing – local media in Hong Kong reported that Lam’s administration was planning to announce some sort of climbdown as it tries to find its way out of the political crisis.
The South China Morning Post, Now TV, TVB and RTHK all cited government sources as saying the plan was to postpone bringing the divisive bill back to the city’s parliament for debate – the trigger for Wednesday’s clashes.
The SCMP said Lam held an emergency meeting on Friday night, June 14, with her advisers while Chinese officials were also meeting in the nearby city of Shenzhen to map a way out of the impasse.
Lam, who is appointed by a committee stacked with Beijing loyalists, has so far refused to abandon the bill despite months of criticism from business and legal bodies – and a record breaking rally on Sunday where organizers said more than one million protesters hit the streets. (READ: Hong Kong’s extradition law jolts business community)
But on Friday she found herself facing growing calls from within her own political camp to reverse course and tamp down spiraling public anger – including from hardline pro-Beijing lawmakers.
“Shouldn’t (we) cool the citizens down? I think to postpone it for a little bit is not a bad thing. At this moment, the government should self-examine,” Ann Chiang, a hardcore pro-Beijing lawmaker, told i-Cable News.
But other hardliners have warned against Lam bending to the protesters.
“If the government caves in to violence and external influences, in the long run that would also make Hong Kong ungovernable,” pro-Beijing lawmaker Regina Ip told reporters.
Opposition to the extradition bill has united an unusually wide cross section of Hong Kong.
On Friday night, thousands of parents gathered in a park in the heart of the city’s commercial district to condemn the use of rubber bullets and tear gas against predominantly young protesters on Wednesday.
Y. Chan, a 50-year-old mother of two, said she was outraged watching the scenes unfold.
“It’s calling for all mothers who had enough already of what happened the other day,” she told Agence France-Presse. “My kids were out there also that day. And although I want them to be safe, want them to be at home, but this is their home. They are defending it.” – Rappler.com