StudentS and alumni of high schools in the Tuen Mun district of Hong Kong take part in a joint “school human chain rally” on Thursday. Photo: AFP

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s leader yesterday urged prodemocracy protesters to end their demonstrations after her surprise decision to bow to one of their key demands was condemned as too little, too late.

Carrie Lam, the city’s proBeijing chief executive, surprised many on Wednesday when after three months of rallies she suddenly announced she was scrapping a hugely unpopular proposed extradition law. Millions of people have taken to Hong Kong’s streets since June in the biggest challenge to China’s rule of semi-autonomous Hong Kong since its handover from the British in 1997.

The protests were sparked by a bill allowing extraditions to the authoritarian mainland but as Beijing and Lam refused to budge, the movement morphed into a broader campaign calling for democratic reforms and police accountability. On Wednesday evening, Lam released a video message saying she was scrapping the bill entirely, a key demand of protesters.

StudentS and alumni of high schools in the Tuen Mun district of Hong Kong take part in a joint “school human chain rally” on Thursday. Photo: AFP

At a press conference yesterday, Lam continued her newfound conciliatory tone, saying her decision to fully withdraw the bill was an attempt “to help prevent violence and stop chaos as soon as possible, resume the social order and help our economy and people’s livelihood to move forward”.

“It is obvious to many of us that the discontentment in society extends far beyond the bill,” Lam added, saying she recognised that anger over inequality and the government had spiralled and needed to be solved. She renewed her appeal for protesters to enter into a dialogue with her administration and called on moderate protesters to abandon their more militant allies who have frequently clashed with riot police over the last 14 weeks.

But there is little sign her belated concession will end protests or heal divisions in the international financial hub. Hong Kong’s protests are leaderless and organised through social media, encompassing a vast swathe of the city, from moderates to more radical groups.

Since Lam’s announcement on Wednesday, there has been uniform condemnation across the protest spectrum with activists vowing to keep up their campaign. At a “citizens press conference” Wednesday evening — a useful gauge of the youth-led wing on the front lines at rallies — an unidentified woman wearing a mask and helmet rejected the concession.

“If Carrie Lam had withdrawn the bill two months ago, that may have been a quick fix,” she said. “But applying a bandaid months later on to rotting flesh will simply not cut it.” Online forums used by protesters have filled with calls for new rallies — including plans to disrupt transport links to the city’s airport tomorrow, a major regional aviation hub.

More moderate pan-democrat lawmakers have also rejected the concession and even some pro-establishment figures within Lam’s camp have said the bill withdrawal will not do enough to curb public anger. Beyond calls to scrap the extradition bill, protesters had four core demands: an inquiry into police conduct, an amnesty for anyone arrested, a retraction of the label “rioters” to describe protesters and universal suffrage — the last a major red line for Beijing. – AFP