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Li breaks silence over HK protests, backs withdrawal of extradition bill

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By PTI Updated: Sep 06, 2019 11:14 pm
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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, rear left, attend the signing ceremony and clap hands during the meeting at The Great Hall Of The People Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, in Beijing. AP/PTI

Beijing, Sep. 6 (PTI): Premier Li Keqiang, China’s second highest-ranking leader backed Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s move to withdraw the controversial extradition bill, breaking his silence over the massive pro-democracy protests which challenged Beijing’s hold over the former British colony.

The anti-government protests in Hong Kong over the bill which was aimed at extraditing locals to be prosecuted in the Communist Party controlled courts tested the Chinese leaderships patience to the hilt.

Top Chinese Communist Party leadership, including President Xi Jinping refrained from commenting on the three-month long agitation which often turned violent as pro-China Lam struggled to deal with the protests.

“The Chinese government unswervingly safeguards ‘one country, two systems’ and ‘Hong Kong people govern Hong Kong people , Li said in a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He said China backed Hong Kong “to end the violence and chaos in accordance with the law, to return to order, which is to safeguard Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability”.

The world “needs to believe that the Chinese people have the ability and wisdom to handle their own matters well,” he said objecting to the US and the EU backing the protests.

For her part, Merkel said a peaceful solution was needed for Hong Kong.

Merkel said she discussed Hong Kong situation with Li and stressed the need to find a peaceful solution for the city, which was handed over by Britain to China in 1997.

“I stressed that the rights and freedoms for (Hong Kong) citizens have to be granted,” Merkel said.

“In the current situation, violence must be prevented. Only dialogue helps. There are signs that Hong Kong’s chief executive will invite such a dialogue. I hope that materialises and that demonstrators have the chance to participate within the frame of citizens’ rights,” she was quoted as saying by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.

Despite mobilising thousands of special police forces at Hong Kong borders and well-armed soldiers stationed at its garrison in the city, China refrained from deploying them apprehending intensification of protests.

Since June this year, Hong Kong has been witnessing unprecedented protests by millions of people at times demanding the local government to withdraw the legislation.

While some of the peaceful demonstrations witnessed at times the participation of over two million locals, hard-line prodemocracy activists have been clashing with police almost every day disrupting normal life.

In the last few days the protests by youth and students turned violent.

Earlier reports from Hong Kong said China has overruled Lam’s proposal to withdraw the bill.

Lam, 62 has been hinting during the past few days that she even wanted to quit.

On Monday, a recording of a private meeting emerged where she is heard saying: “If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit.”

But she said on Tuesday she had “never tendered any resignation”, but did not deny the authenticity of the recording.

However, she announced on Wednesday that the bill would be formally withdrawn, but this has not satisfied the anti-government movement, with some protesters planning to block traffic to Hong Kong’s international airport on Saturday.

The protestors called her announcement too little too late.

Besides the demand to withdraw the bill, the pro-democracy protestors are also calling for her resignation, inquiry into police brutalities and universal franchise of one person one vote with freedom for all the locals to contest the elections for the legislature.

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By PTI Updated: Sep 06, 2019 11:14:32 pm