Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has announced the formal withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill that sparked months of protests.
The Beijing-backed leader made the announcement in a televised statement on Wednesday.
The scrapping of the bill, which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, was one of the main demands of the pro-democracy movement in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
“A government source said that Lam will emphasize that the removal of the bill was to streamline the legislative agenda, with the Legislative Council set to reopen in October after its summer break and hence it was a technical procedure,” the South China Morning Post wrote.
Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Hong Kong, said the announcement could be a “breakthrough” in the crisis, but whether it was going to be enough to defuse the situation remained unknown.
“This is something that should have happened months ago,” Brown said.
“What has happened I think is that the leadership in Beijing has told her [Lam] … withdraw this controversial bill because we need to buy ourselves some peace and quiet in the weeks leading up to the October 1 National Day celebrations,” he added.
“I think that has almost certainly something to do with the announcement that Carrie Lam is due to make.”
Months of protests
Hong Kong has been rocked by mass demonstrations since June, in response to the proposed law by Lam’s administration.
Although the Hong Kong government later suspended the legislation amid the mass protests against it, with Lam declaring it “dead”, it had so far refused to officially retract it.
The upheaval has since continued, with scores of people arrested amid sometimes violent protests.
Aside from the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, the protesters’ demands include an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality and Lam’s resignation, as well as her to stop describing the protests as “rioting” and for her to issue a waiver of charges against those who were arrested.
Bonnie Leung, a civil rights activist and organizer of protests against the bill, said Lam’s reported move “is not sufficient”.
“If it really is withdrawn, protesters can celebrate for just a bit but not long,” she told Al Jazeera.
“This campaign is already beyond the extradition bill – we see police brutality every single day and these police officers who obviously broke the law and were caught on camera have no legal consequences at all, they are not facing any trial, so it is important for Hong Kong people to have an independent inquiry to investigate everything.”
Earlier this week, Reuters News Agency reported that Lam told a closed-door meeting last week she had caused “unforgivable havoc” by igniting the political crisis engulfing the city and would quit if she had a choice.
“If I have a choice,” she said, according to an audio recording obtained by Reuters. “The first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology.”
‘Too little too late’
Commenting on the Lam’s move, Adam Ni, China researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, said the announcement comes “too little too late” for Hong Kong.
“It will have minimal effects on public sentiments and how they view her government and her political masters in Beijing,” Ni said.
Since early June, he said, “support and trust in her [Lam’s] government and in the Hong Kong police have been eroding,” which has “damaged her credibility beyond repair”.
While the formal withdrawal of the contentious bill is a positive step, Ni noted this will not be enough to quell the protesters’ anger as demands have expanded over the last 13 weeks.
“She will have to take further steps,” he said. “If she does not take further steps, then we can expect the protests to continue.”