Thursday 18 July 2019

Hong Kong leader offers apology as 'millions' of protesters tell her to quit

Lam tries to calm outrage over proposed law on extradition to China

Peace: A protester offers a white flower to police officers during a rally attended by huge numbers demanding Hong Kong's leaders step down. Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Peter
Peace: A protester offers a white flower to police officers during a rally attended by huge numbers demanding Hong Kong's leaders step down. Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Wendy Tang

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has been forced into a rare apology after protesters estimated to number in the millions poured on to the streets demanding she scrap a controversial extradition law and resign.

The protesters, many of them carrying white flowers as a sign of mourning, came from a cross-section of society and organisers claimed that numbers were double the estimated one million who turned out last week. Police said they counted just over 300,000 people on the protest route.

Protesters attend a demonstration demanding Hong Kong's leaders to step down and withdraw the extradition bill. Photo: REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Protesters attend a demonstration demanding Hong Kong's leaders to step down and withdraw the extradition bill. Photo: REUTERS/Jorge Silva

It was nonetheless an extraordinary show of people power in a city where freedoms are being increasingly squeezed by Beijing. It ended any hopes the embattled Ms Lam may have harboured of swiftly ending the spiralling political crisis that has engulfed Hong Kong.

Protesters were not appeased by her unexpected decision on Saturday to delay the divisive extradition law, which critics say would put foreigners and Hong Kong residents at risk of being swept into China's opaque justice system and damage the city's reputation as a safe financial hub.

Instead, the crowd chanted "Carrie Lam, step down!" in unison as it snaked for 3km between Victoria Park and the Legislative Council.

It was the second Sunday in a row that unprecedented numbers had rallied in democratic defiance of their leadership, whom they have accused of doing Beijing's bidding.

Grief: A woman prays at the site where a man fell to his death from scaffolding during a protest on Saturday. Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Peter
Grief: A woman prays at the site where a man fell to his death from scaffolding during a protest on Saturday. Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The mood was spirited and tinged with anger at Ms Lam's perceived weak, untrustworthy response and heavy-handed police tactics last Wednesday when protesters were repelled with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Ms Lam's statement of apology and pledge to "adopt a most sincere and humble attitude" came six hours after the massive protests began, and they gained little public sympathy.

The Civil Human Rights Front, one of the main protest groups, rejected the apology as a "total insult". In a statement, it added: "Should the government refuse to respond, only more Hong Kongers will strike tomorrow; citizens will take to the streets, until their voices are heard."

The strength of public opposition has left Ms Lam in an untenable position, according to Claudia Mo, an opposition politician in the Legislative Council.

"She has completely lost credibility among Hong Kong people. She has to step down," she said. "I really wish Carrie Lam would stop putting on this cocky and arrogant face and talk to Hong Kong people nicely and just scrap this bill completely."

Its overturning was vital to Hong Kong's freedom, she said, adding: "This could be our ultimate and final fight."

Many on the march shared this sentiment. Parents marching with small children in their arms said that voicing their protest outweighed the risk of more violence and overcrowded choke points.

"We want to show our children that it is our responsibility to protect Hong Kong. We don't want Hong Kong to be China," said Mr and Mrs Yu, a young couple who had brought their son and daughter, aged five and seven, to the protest.

The crowd was awash with banners saying "Do Not Shoot, We Are HongKonger" and "Stop Killing Us" in a reference to the violence of last week that shook the financial centre to its core.

The police remained low-key, standing by the side of the road without body armour or directing the crowds.

But many people were incensed at Ms Lam's refusal to apologise for the authorities' earlier use of force or to back down over her labelling of protesters as "rioters".

Telegraph.co.uk

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