Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam is expected to announce the formal withdrawal of an extradition bill with China that sparked three months of protests in the city, the South China Morning Post reports, citing unnamed sources.
The withdrawal of the bill, which would have allowed Hong Kong citizens to be sent to mainland China to face trial, is one of the main demands of pro-democracy protesters.
The former British colony has been plunged into its deepest crisis in decades after three months of large-scale demonstrations.
Ms Lam had earlier suspended the bill, but that did not satisfy the protesters, who said that for as long as the bill remained on the legislative agenda, there was every chance it could be resuscitated at any moment.
She has defended the bill, saying it would have closed existing loopholes which purportedly allow criminals to use the city as a safe haven.
A day after she suspended the bill, an estimated 2 million people took to the streets on June 16, and protests have not stopped since.
Many local media outlets are reporting on a possible withdrawal of the bill later today but, even if it goes ahead, it is unlikely to stop the protests.
Already, thousands are taking to social media, posting “five demands, not one less” in response to the news — a slogan that they’ve been chanting for months.
That’s because the withdrawal of the bill is only one of their five main demands.
They are: withdraw the bill, for leader Carrie Lam to step down, an inquiry into police brutality, for those who have been arrested to be released, and greater democratic freedoms.
A source told the South China Morning Post today that the reported withdrawal of the bill is a “bid to cool down the atmosphere” in Hong Kong — where tensions have hit breaking point.
Last weekend saw some of the fiercest battles between protesters and police so far.
Cops launched a wave of mass arrests on the eve of a banned march, and demonstrators threw 100 petrol bombs at targets such as police headquarters and stations and government buildings.
Today’s news comes a day after leaked audio revealed Ms Lam feels she has caused “unforgivable havoc” on the region and that she would quit if she had “a choice”.
The damning audio published by Reuters reveals what Lam said behind closed doors in front of a group of business people.
“For a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable,”
Lam told the group as her voice broke with emotion.
“If I had a choice the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology, is to step down. So I plea for your forgiveness.”
Despite an apparent softening towards the protesters’ demands today, China’s state-controlled news agency Xinhua gave a warning to the activists yesterday.
“The end is coming for those attempting to disrupt Hong Kong and antagonise China,” the outlet stated.
The statement could signal that Chairman Xi Jinping is losing patience with the former British colony.
October 1 represents the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Hong Kong’s main stock benchmark surged more than 3 per cent on Wednesday afternoon after media reported the government would formally withdraw the bill.