HONG KONG – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam personally apologized for backing a bill that would allow extraditions to China for the first time, her latest move to try and defuse protests that have rocked the city.
“I personally have to shoulder much of the responsibilities,” Lam told reporters Tuesday. “I offer my most sincere apologies to all people in Hong Kong.”
Still, Lam declined to resign or withdraw the bill — two key demands of protesters who have vowed to keep hitting the streets unless she goes. Instead, she said wouldn’t proceed with the bill unless all concerns could be addressed, and noted it’s “unlikely” that would happen during the current legislative session.
Lam has been under pressure after a historic protest on Sunday calling for her to step down over a bill allowing extraditions to China for the first time. Protesters also want her to withdraw the bill completely, release all arrested demonstrators, stop calling the protests a “riot” and investigate police for excessive violence.
The government announced earlier in the day that roads near the Central Government offices, which are next to Lam’s office, had “generally become accessible” and urged staff to return to work. The Executive Council that Lam oversees will be on recess Tuesday, the government said in a separate statement, adding that arrangements for her normal media session would be announced later.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters wearing black flooded downtown Hong Kong on Sunday, prompting her to issue a statement apologizing for causing “substantial controversies and disputes in society.” Still, China said on Monday it continues to “firmly support” Lam and her government.
The dispute has attracted attention around the globe to the embarrassment of China: Beijing has blamed foreigners for provoking the protests, and urged other nations to stop getting involved in what it regards as a domestic issue.
Hong Kong’s police on Monday evening dialed back their categorization of the June 12 clashes with protesters near the city’s legislative building as a “riot,” which has certain legal ramifications. Dropping the description was among the major demands of Sunday’s demonstration.
Only people who threw bricks and wielded metal poles against police officers might have committed riot offenses, police commissioner Stephen Lo told reporters.
“Others who have participated in the same public order event but have not engaged in any violent act need not to worry about committing rioting offenses,” Lo said. He added that only five people had been arrested on riot-related offenses and that most protesters were “peaceful.”
Lo last week classified afternoon clashes outside the Legislative Council as rioting. Lam herself also used the term in a video statement released by the government.