Hong Kong demonstrators vowed to continue their protests until all five of their demands are met, particularly having an independent probe into the whole extradition bill affair.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor gave assurances on Thursday that the draft extradition bill would be withdrawn through a motion in the Legislative Council in October and that the decision was her own, and not dictated by Beijing.
No voting is involved in the Legislative Council when the bill is withdrawn.
Lam has responded to the skepticism over her pre-recorded broadcast announcing the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill on Wednesday evening. Speaking at a packed press briefing, Lam also dismissed criticism that her decision to officially withdraw the bill was “too little, too late.”
It took three months for Lam to first “suspend” the bill in June, claiming “the bill is dead” in July, and finally to officially withdraw the controversial bill on Wednesday. However, the saga sparked months of unrest in the city and the worst political crisis since the handover.
When questioned why she insisted that “suspending the bill” was adequate before changing her mind, Lam said the government was given advice that they should be the first one to come out to provide a basis for dialogue.
She reiterated that the withdrawal was the first step to start the dialogue.
But Lam once again rejected calls for an independent commission of inquiry into alleged police brutality, repeating that the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) was a credible body to carry out a fair inquiry.
She appointed Helen Yu Lai Ching-ping, a retired senior civil servant, and Paul Lam Ting-kwok, a former chairman of the Bar Association and a barrister, as new members of the IPCC to assist the work.
However, the police watchdog does not have investigative powers. It earlier announced it would conduct a study into the protests sparked by the extradition bill.
Hours after Lam announced the withdrawal of the bill, business groups and pro-establishment groups said they welcomed her move.
However, members of the general public of various ages and backgrounds told Asia Times they won’t accept the withdrawal as Hong Kong people had sacrificed too much over the past three months.
They said Lam did not address the most pressing problem in society right now – the alleged brutality of the police force. People said they were furious over the excessive force used by police and the unfair way police handled gangsters and protesters.
All the people spoken to cited two incidents involving gangsters and police officers – when gangsters stormed into the MTR station in Yuen Long and when police went into train carriages in Prince Edward station and hit protesters and passengers, leading to dozens of people injured in July and August.
A 20-year-old university student said she would not give up protesting because Lam talked of “withdrawing” the extradition bill. She slammed the late response from Lam’s administration and her refusal to set up an independent commission of inquiry.
“The government ignored million-people marches, there are so many innocent people injured over the clashes, at least eight people committed suicide in relation to the bill and the excessive police force used,” she said. “There’s no way to accept anything if the five demands have yet to be met.”
She vowed to continue to join any forms of protest in the future.
A man who had joined many protests said: “It’s not only about the extradition bill, but Hongkongers see the corruption inside the police force, their excessive power and the unfair ways in the whole political system.” He added that police reform was needed.
A 43-year-old mother, who claimed to be a peaceful protester, said she would join any coming protest if the government refused to probe the brutality of the police force.
“I will support the young protesters. If they need me to join the protest, I will join. If they need financial assistance, I will donate. I will do as much as I could,” she said.
Another woman who classed herself as a mild activist said Hong Kong needed more people to come out and join a different kind of protest, but she advised protesters do it in a gentle way. “Try to listen to people with opposite political views and communicate with them patiently.”
Speaking at what was called the citizens’ press conference, a spokesperson described the bill’s withdrawal as only a turning point in the whole saga, not the finale. “Lam was too late to respond to the demands the general public asked in June,” he said.
One radical frontline protester said reform should be carried out in the police force to help bring peace back to society, the Ming Pao Daily reported. He added that society would cool down and predicted less frequent protests in the near future.
Over the past three months, police have arrested thousands of people and about 100 were charged with various offenses, including rioting, which carries a maximum jail term of 10 years.
As the clashes escalated and turned violent, protesters, citizens and police officers were injured. Ten people reportedly committed suicide in relation to the introduction of the extradition bill.