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Hong Kong Government Withdraws Extradition Bill, A Key Demand Of Protesters

Hong Kong's embattled chief executive, Carrie Lam, is officially withdrawing an extradition bill with China after more than three months of sometimes violent protest.

In a videotaped speech, Lam cited growing clashes between protesters and police and online harassment from both sides as an impetus for backing down regarding the bill.

"For many people, Hong Kong has become an unfamiliar place," Lam said. "We need a common basis to start such a dialogue."

Protests against the bill, which if passed would have seen suspected criminals sent to mainland China to be tried, are now in their 14th week. Lam initially refused to completely withdraw the extradition bill, instead saying that it had been "suspended" on June 15.

Infuriated, protesters have continued to take to the streets and increased their demands to five, including direct democratic elections for Hong Kong's next leader and an independent investigation into police brutality during the protests.

Lam's concession Wednesday will likely do little to quell social discontent.

She refused to discuss dismissing criminal charges against protesters arrested for "rioting," a charge that can carry a maximum punishment of five years of jail time. She also said she would expand an existing police commission to look into allegations of police brutality but would not set up a new, independent body as protesters have asked.

Lam sidestepped demands for democratic reforms, saying that "discussions must be undertaken within the legal framework, and in an atmosphere that is conducive to mutual trust and understanding."

Joshua Wong, a prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist, wrote on Twitter that Lam's withdrawal of the bill would not mollify protesters: "Too little and too late now — Carrie Lam's response comes after 7 lives sacrificed, more than 1,200 protestors arrested, in which many are mistreated in police station."

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Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.