Angry Hong Kong protesters vowed on Tuesday to step up their campaign against a controversial extradition law after the city’s chief executive Carrie Lam refused to answer their calls to withdraw it and resign.
In her first public appearance since a record-breaking march against the bill on Sunday, Ms Lam offered a “sincere apology” and admitted she shouldered personal responsibility for the way it had led to “controversies, disputes and anxieties” within Hong Kong 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.
Her remarks did nothing to ease the standoff 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.
“No matter how President Xi Jinping or Carrie Lam try to ignore the requests of the people or silence the voice of Hong Kong citizens, more and more rallies and protests and action will happen soon,” he said.
“No matter what happens, Hong Kong people will continue our fight,” he added.
“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 main 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 on Wednesday to agree the way forward.
Ms Lam’s refusal to completely scrap the extradition bill may be a face-saving measure but it has also raised suspicions among protesters that it could only be a delaying tactic until the situation calms down.
Her initial labelling of protests last week as “organised riots” and reluctance to address demonstrators’ charges of excessive force by riot police has led to a total a breakdown of trust between protest groups and the career civil servant.
Heavy-handed police action last Wednesday, when officers in riot gear fired rubber bullets and tear gas cannisters on a demonstration sparked public outrage, with many at Sunday’s rally carrying banners that read “Stop Killing Us” and posting “Stop Shooting” posters on walls and bridges.
The police have since scaled down their presence at protest events, which have remained peaceful, and Stephen Lo, the police chief, clarified on Monday that he did not seek to classify the whole protest as a riot.
But indignation at the police response was reignited on Tuesday by a viral video that showed how demonstrators narrowly avoided being crushed after tear gas had caused a stampede towards a building whose doors were locked.
Activists have included dropping all remaining charges against protesters as one of their five main demands.
While this goal may be easier to obtain than Ms Lam’s resignation, observers say that her poor handling of Hong Kong’s biggest political crisis in decades will torpedo any long-term political ambitions that she may have harboured.
Mr Wong admitted that protesters were aware that her resignation would only lead to the installation of another “puppet” by Beijing. “This fight for free elections is what we ask for in the long run,” he said.