HONG KONG (Reuters) – Tens of thousands are expected to take to the streets in Hong Kong on Sunday to demand the city's leadership steps down the clock after they suspended an extradition bill following the most violent protests in decades.
Members of the Civil Human Rights Front and a news conference in response to the announcement by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on the proposed extradition bill, outside the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong, China, June 15, 2019. REUTERS / Athit Perawongmetha
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Saturday indefinitely delayed the bill that could send people to mainland China to do trial, expressing "deep sorrow and regret".
The about-face was one of the most significant political turnarounds by the Hong Kong government since Britain returned the territory to China in 1997, and it threw into question Lam's ability to continue to lead the city.
Organizers of Sunday's protest said they hope more than a million people will turn up for the rally, similar to numbers they estimated for a demonstration against the proposed extradition bill last Sunday. Police put that count at 240,000.
Violent clashes on Wednesday when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protestors grabbed global headlines and forced some banks to shut branches.
Some Hong Kong tycoons have begun moving their personal wealth offshore over concerns about proposed extradition law, which critics warn could erode the city's international status.
The city's independent legal system was guaranteed under the laws governing Hong Kong's return from British to Chinese rule 22 years ago and is seen by business and diplomatic communities as its strong remaining asset amid encroachments from Beijing.
Hong Kong has been governed under a "one country, two systems" formula since its return to Beijing, allowing freedoms not enjoyed on China's mainland but not a fully democratic vote.
Many accuses Beijing of extensive interdiction since then, including the obstruction of democratic reforms, interference with elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specializes in criticism of Chinese leaders.
Some opponents of the extradition bill said that the suspension was not enough and he wanted to scrapped and Lam to go.
"If she refuses to scrap this controversial bill altogether, it would mean we would not retreat. She remains on, we stay on, "said pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo.
Asked repeatedly on Saturday if she would step down, Lam avoided answering directly and appealed to the public to "give us another chance." Lam said she had been a civil servant for decades and still had a job she wanted to do.
She added that she felt "deep sorrow and regret that deficiencies in our work and various other factors have stirred up substantial controversies and disputes in society."
Lam's reversal was hailed by business groups and overseas governments.
"AmCham is relieved by the government's decision to suspend the extradition bill and that it has listened to the Hong Kong people and international business community," said Tara Joseph, President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.
The UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter: "Well done HK Government for heeding concerns of the brave citizens who have stood up for their human rights."
China's top newspaper on Sunday condemned the "anti-China lackeys" of foreign forces in Hong Kong.
"Certain people in Hong Kong have been relying on foreigners or relying on young people to build themselves up, serving as the pawns and loyalties of foreign anti-China forces," said the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily in a commentary.
"The Hong Kong protests have been the largest in the city since the crowds came out against the bloody suppression of the pro- Democracy demonstrations centered around Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
Officials said 72 people were admitted to hospitals from Wednesday's protest, while a man died on Saturday after plunging from construction scaffolding where he unfurled and banner denouncing Hong Kong's extradition bill, local media reported.
Lam had said the extradition law was necessary to prevent criminals using Hong Kong as a place to hide and that human rights would be protected by the city court, which would decide on extraditions on a case-by-case basis.
Critics, including leading lawyers and rights groups, notes China's justice system is controlled by the Communist Party, and it is marked by torture and forced confessions, arbitrary detention and poor access to lawyers.
Reporting by Anne Marie Roantree and Clare Jim;
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