Saturday 20 July 2019

Protesters target G20 summit as Hong Kong leader's apology rejected

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam at a news conference yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam at a news conference yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Activists Nathan Law, Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow. Photo: Reuters

Nicola Smith

Angry Hong Kong protesters vowed to step up their campaign against a controversial extradition law after the city's chief executive refused to answer their calls to withdraw it and resign.

In Carrie Lam's first public appearance since a record-breaking march against the bill on Sunday, she yesterday offered a "sincere apology" and admitted she shouldered personal responsibility for the way it had led to "controversies, disputes and anxieties" within Hong Kong's society.

She suggested that the bill would effectively be shelved by allowing it to "lapse" before the end of the legislative term in 2020, adding that the government had accepted that reality.

But she refused to explicitly retract the legislation, which would allow some suspects to face trial in mainland China.

"I want another chance to work out the many initiatives that will help Hong Kong's economy and to improve the lives of people," she said, signalling that she plans to serve out the final three years of her term. "I, myself, and my political team will work very hard to achieve these objectives and to meet the expectation of Hong Kong people."

Her remarks did nothing to ease the tension with protest groups who denounced her apology as insincere and accused her of arrogance for failing to address any of their main demands.

Joshua Wong, one of Hong Kong's most high-profile pro-democracy activists, pledged more acts of "civil disobedience" would specifically be carried out ahead of next week's G20 summit in Japan, which will be attended by Xi Jinping, the Chinese president.

He said: "No matter how President Xi or Carrie Lam try to ignore the requests of the people or silence the voice of Hong Kong citizens, more and more rallies, protests and action will happen soon.

"The only way forward is for Carrie Lam to step down. It's time for her to enjoy her retired life and end her political career."

The Civil Human Rights Front, one of the groups behind the mass rallies that have choked central Hong Kong in recent weeks, declared it was "disappointed" by the chief executive's latest response and said it would meet with pro-democracy legislators today to agree the way forward.

Ms Lam's refusal to completely scrap the extradition bill may be a face-saving measure, but it has raised suspicion among protesters that she could be delaying until the situation calms down.

Her initial labelling of the protests as "organised riots" and reluctance to address demonstrators' claims that riot police used excessive force have led to a breakdown of trust between protest groups and the career civil servant.

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