China, in Hong Kong, China
People attend a rally in support of demonstrators protesting against the proposed extradition bill with China, in Hong Kong, China, June 14, 2019. Picture taken June 14, 2019. Image Credit: REUTERS/Jorge Silva

HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader said on Saturday the government will "suspend" debate on a controversial extradition bill, in an apparent bid to quell further unrest and mass demonstrations throughout the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

Backing down after days of huge street protests, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said on Saturday that she would indefinitely suspend a bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China.

It was a remarkable reversal for Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong leader installed by Beijing in 2017.

It was a remarkable reversal for Lam, the leader installed by Beijing in 2017, who had vowed to ensure the bill’s approval and tried to get it passed on an unusually short timetable, even as hundreds of thousands demonstrated against it this week.

City leaders hope that delaying the legislation will cool public anger and avoid more violence in the streets, said people with detailed knowledge of the government’s plans, including advisers to Lam.

Lam and her superiors in Beijing were reluctant to withdraw the bill outright, as the pro-democracy opposition has demanded.

But they have no plans to make another push for it, the people said in interviews on Friday evening and Saturday morning. They insisted on anonymity because they were not authorised to speak on behalf of the governments.

A full withdrawal of the legislation would recall the government’s reversals in the face of public objections to other contentious bills that were seen as infringing on Hong Kong’s liberties — national security legislation, in 2003, and compulsory patriotic education legislation, in 2012.

Before Mrs. Lam’s announcement on Saturday afternoon, leading opposition figures said a mere postponement of the bill would not satisfy the protesters, who have been planning another large demonstration for Sunday.

“As far as democratic legislators are concerned, as far as the young people are concerned, this wouldn’t work because you would only be delaying the pain,” a pro-democracy lawmaker, Claudia Mo, said on Friday.

A team of senior Chinese officials and experts met on Friday with Mrs. Lam in Shenzhen, a mainland Chinese city bordering Hong Kong, to review the situation, a person with detailed knowledge of the government’s policymaking said.

The bill would make it easier for Hong Kong to send people suspected of crimes to jurisdictions with which it has no extradition treaty, including mainland China. Many people in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous territory with far more civil liberties than the mainland has, fear that the legislation would put anyone in the city at risk of being detained and sent to China for trial by the country’s Communist Party-controlled courts.