Hong Kong withdraws controversial extradition bill that led to months of protests

23 October 2019, 08:14 | Updated: 23 October 2019, 15:27

The Hong Kong government has withdrawn the controversial extradition bill that sparked months of protests and violence.

Security secretary John Lee said on Wednesday: "I now formally announce the withdrawal of the bill."

However, he refused to take questions from pro-democracy politicians.

The bill allowed extraditions from Hong Kong to mainland China.

Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam had proposed amendments to extradition legislation to try to resolve a case involving a man wanted for murder in self-ruled Taiwan, who could not be sent to face charges because there was no extradition agreement.

But the proposals led to fears that residents would be at risk of being sent to China's Communist Party-controlled courts.

China's foreign ministry said reports there are plans to replace Ms Lam was political rumour with ulterior motives.

Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the comments at a daily news briefing in Beijing.

The Financial Times reported that China was drawing up a plan to replace Ms Lam with an "interim" chief executive.

The scrapping of the bill coincided with the release from a Hong Kong prison of the murder suspect at the heart of the controversy that has engulfed the extradition bill.

Chan Tong-kai, who served a separate sentence for money laundering, said after his release on Wednesday that he wanted to turn himself in to authorities in Taiwan, where he is wanted for the killing of his pregnant girlfriend, Poon Hiu-wing.

The protests began in early June and spiralled into the city's biggest political crisis in decades with demands for universal suffrage and calls for an investigation into allegations of police brutality.

During recent protests there have been claims that police sprayed a mosque and crowds with high-pressure blue-dyed water from an assault vehicle.

Protesters have attacked banks and corporate buildings while police responded by using tear gas and firing rubber bullets.

Residents are angry at what they see as Beijing encroaching on the former British colony's "one country, two systems" formula enshrined during the handover in 1997, which permits the city wide-ranging freedoms not available on the mainland, such as an independent judiciary.

Reacting to the withdrawal of the bill, one protester said: "There aren't any big differences between suspension and withdrawal of the extradition bill. It's too little, too late.

"There are still other demands the government needs to meet, especially the problem of police brutality."