Hong Kong authorities have formally withdrawn the unpopular extradition bill that sparked a months-long protest movement.
The semi-autonomous province’s leader, Carrie Lam, had initially proposed the bill in February to resolve a case involving a man wanted for murder in Taiwan who could not be sent to face charges because there was no extradition agreement.
However the proposals sparked widespread fears that residents would be at risk of being sent to mainland China to face the state’s Communist Party-controlled courts – prompting protests that have engulfed the territory between citizens and the police.
Now, after assurances from Ms Lam in September that the bill would be scrapped in the next meeting of the state’s legislative council, it has been formally withdrawn by secretary for security John Lee.
In July, with the city crippled by a summer of disruption, Ms Lam said the government’s work on the legislation had been a “total failure” and declared the controversial bill “dead” – stopping short of a full withdrawal.
But despite having now met what was the central demand of protestors when their demonstrations began in March, it is unlikely the move will deter further conflict.
The goals of the movement have shifted to securing greater independence from the influence of Beijing and the resignation of Ms Lam. Action is frequently accompanied by the chant “five demands, not one less”, in reference to the possible removal of the bill.
“There aren’t any big differences between suspension and withdrawal of the extradition bill ... It’s too little, too late,” said protester Connie, 27, hours before the withdrawal. “There are still other demands the government needs to meet, especially the problem of police brutality.”
The move comes amid reports China will seek to replace Ms Lam with an interim chief executive for the province in an attempt to quell protests.
Citing people briefed on the deliberations, the Financial Times reported that, if given the blessing of Beijing’s Xi Jinping, a successor to Ms Lam could be installed in March to see out the remainder of her term, which is due to end in 2022.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying has since said the plans were a political rumour with ulterior motives.
On Wednesday night, hundreds of pro-democracy protesters formed a human chain at the British Consulate in Hong Kong to rally support for their cause from the city’s former colonial ruler.
The event was organised in support of a debate on Thursday in Britain's Parliament on whether to offer British citizenship to Hong Kongers in light of the unrest that has gripped the city since early June.
Additional reporting by agencies
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