Hong Kong’s Leader Publicly Apologizes for Extradition Bill

Hong Kong’s Leader Publicly Apologizes for Extradition Bill

HONG KONG — Backpedaling under mounting pressure, Hong Kong’s top leader publicly apologized on Tuesday for having proposed contentious legislation that would allow extraditions to mainland China.

“I would like to tender my sincere apologies to the citizens of Hong Kong,” the leader, Carrie Lam, said at a news conference at government headquarters. “I have come to understand I could have done better, I should have done a better job.”

Mrs. Lam, who had already announced the extradition bill’s indefinite suspension, did not concede to protesters’ demands that it be withdrawn entirely. But she said that as long as there were public disputes over its contents, legislative work on it would not be resumed.

She also said that she would not resign as Hong Kong’s chief executive, but acknowledged that “as for my governance in the future, it will be difficult.”

Mrs. Lam was trying to strike a difficult balance on Tuesday, showing contrition to protesters without further giving in to their demands. She avoided antagonizing the Chinese leaders who appointed her by taking the blame for the legislation herself, not mentioning Beijing’s support for it. She also tried to express concern for injured protesters without undercutting the Hong Kong police, whose use of force has added to public anger.

About 100 people gathered on Tuesday outside the offices of the central government and listened as Mrs. Lam’s words boomed from a loudspeaker. Many booed as she spoke.

Samuel Chan, an electronics trader, said he did not believe Mrs. Lam was listening to the protesters.

“They are just responding to the issue according to a government mind-set,” said Mr. Chan, 56. “Not the people’s will.”

The police have arrested at least 32 people since Wednesday, when a demonstration outside the Hong Kong legislature turned violent. A group of protesters attempting to storm the building threw umbrellas and other objects at the police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The Hong Kong police commissioner, Lo Wai-chung, said on Monday that the government would pursue rioting charges against five people accused of being involved in the violence. Protesters had objected to his earlier characterization of the Wednesday protest as a riot.

Some democracy activists are quietly nervous about the possibility of a resignation by Mrs. Lam, a lifelong civil servant, because her political heir apparent, Paul Chan, has a reputation for being even more strongly pro-Beijing.

Others are adamant that Mrs. Lam step down. They contend that the Hong Kong public should press for full and free elections rather than accept the current system, in which a pro-Beijing committee of fewer than 1,200 people selects the chief executive.

Protesters made similar demands for open elections five years ago, when they occupied major roadways for almost three months in what is known as the Umbrella Movement. While that movement did not achieve its short-term objectives, it had a major influence on this year’s anti-extradition protests.

Emily Lau, a former chairwoman of the Democratic Party who is still an influential voice on democracy issues, said the politics of Mr. Chan, the financial secretary, should not deter critics from calling for Mrs. Lam’s resignation.

“It would be a disaster to have him as chief executive,” Ms. Lau said. “But we should not say, ‘Because we don’t want Paul Chan, maybe Carrie should stay.’”

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