The Hong Kong citizens' movement, which has organized unprecedented protests in the former British colony against an extradition bill proposed by its government, managed to get the controversial ruling suspended, though not yet definitively canceled.
On the eve of another demonstration called for this Sunday, the chief executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, announced Saturday the "suspension" of her controversial extradition bill, which would allow the extradition to mainland China of fugitives accused of certain crimes.
"We have created a great conflict and many people are disappointed and sad. I am also sad and feel repentant for unleashing this conflict," Lam admitted to a press conference for local and international media.
She added that her government will "listen openly to all opinions about the bill" and that she accepts criticism of her work "with sincerity and humility."
However, the chief executive's words did not convince those opposed to the controversial bill, grouped as the Civil Front for Human Rights, who soon after she spoke called for the protests to continue and for everyone to take to the streets for a massive demonstration this Sunday to demand her resignation and the definitive cancelation of the bill.
"The suspension is not acceptable because the government could reactivate the bill in five days or at any time," said Civil Front coordinator Jimmy Sham in another press conference, this one outdoors in Tamar Park next to the Legislative Council.
"Down with Carrie Lam," Sham shouted to the young members of the front gathered in the park after calling on Hong Kong residents to show up Sunday in the streets and to keep protesting until the bill is definitively canceled and Lam resigns.
Another leader of the front, Wong Yok Mo, told EFE that after Sunday "if necessary" they will organize more demonstrations "and other acts of protest" until they get what they want, and which would include having all charges dropped against those arrested in the demonstrations.
They also ask that the marches be considered "a legitimate right and not a rebellion," as Lam called them.
Mo said that with the suspension of the Legislative Council's meeting on the extradition bill this Monday, the general strike called for that day is thereby canceled, though workers' organizations still plan to go ahead with it.
Lam's reversal, after having strongly defended the extradition bill, came after meeting with her government on Saturday and after some political leaders who supported it asked Friday that she postpone or suspend it.
In addition, the Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post reported that Chinese officials had met Friday night with the chief executive in the Chinese city of Shenzhen to find a temporary solution to the crisis.
The spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Gen Shuang, expressed Saturday his "support, respect and understanding" of Lam and of the Hong Kong government in favor of the "stability and prosperity" of the former British colony.
"Since its return to China, the rights and liberties of Hong Kong residents have been respected according to the law. The facts are there for whoever wants to see them. Maintaining the stability of Hong Kong is in the best interests of China and of all the countries in the world," the Chinese spokesman said, while noting that the affairs of Hong Kong are "internal matters" and "no country should interfere in them."
Sunday's march is a follow-up to the protests last Wednesday, when hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets to ask for the bill to be canceled, though at the time they only achieved a postponement of its second reading in the Legislative Council.
Police dispersed crowds in front of the legislature that day firing tear gas and rubber bullets which left 81 people wounded, two of whom are in a serious condition, while 11 people were arrested, according to the authorities.
"There could be even more serious confrontation. There may be more serious injuries for my police officers and citizens. I don't want any of these injuries to happen," Lam said Saturday in explaining the reasons for suspending the bill, while at the same time defending the police action because, she said, security cameras show many demonstrators attacking them.
Proposed in February, the bill passing into law would allow the chief executive's headquarters and the Hong Kong courts to process extradition requests from jurisdictions without prior agreement - in particular mainland China and Taiwan - and without legislative supervision.
Opponents of the bill, which include a broad spectrum of Hong Kong society, fear that the new law could mean that local activists, critical journalists and dissident residents of Hong Kong could also be sent to mainland China for trial.