Anti-government demonstrators hold banners and Union Jack flags as they protest in front of the UK consulate in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Umit Bektas / Reuters
Hong Kong protesters on Wednesday got what they have been demanding for months when authorities officially withdrew controversial extradition bill.
"The bill stands suspended because it it had resulted in "conflicts in society," said Secretary for Security John Lee.
In order to clearly spell out the government's position, "I formally announce the withdrawal of the bill," Lee told lawmakers.
Pro-democracy lawmakers immediately tried to question him, but he refused to respond.
However, there were no sign that the move will end five-month-old protests as rallies have snowballed into the city's biggest political crisis in decades, expanding to demands for universal suffrage and an investigation into allegations of police abuses.
In most recent incidents police were accused of spraying a mosque and bystanders with high-pressure blue-dyed water from an urban assault vehicle.
Hundreds of protesters gathered peacefully outside the British Consulate, waving British flags, chanting "stand with Hong Kong" and calling for support for a British parliamentary debate on the citizenship status of Hong Kong people scheduled for Thursday.
The long-expected scrapping of the bill was overshadowed by the drama surrounding the release from a Hong Kong prison of the murder suspect at the heart of the extradition case controversy.
Chan Tong-kai, who completed a separate sentence for money laundering, told reporters after his release Wednesday that he wished to turn himself in to authorities in Taiwan, where he's wanted for killing his pregnant girlfriend, Poon Hiu-wing.
Taiwan announced Tuesday that it was willing to send a delegation to bring Chan back to the self-ruled island for trial, but Hong Kong rejected the offer, saying the suspect should be allowed to fly unaccompanied to turn himself in.
The controversy is rooted in the unwillingness of Hong Kong to recognize the legitimacy of the legal bodies in Taiwan, which communist leaders in Beijing consider a breakaway province.
China has refused all contact with the administration of Taiwan's directly elected President Tsai Ing-wen over her refusal to endorse Beijing's stance that the island is Chinese territory awaiting annexation. That appears to have compelled Hong Kong to reject cooperation with Taiwan over Taipei's insistence on a "mutual legal assistance" deal with Hong Kong that would require their institutions to deal with each other on an equal basis.
Tsai herself weighed in on Wednesday on the Chan case, emphasizing that, although both the alleged perpetrator and the victim are from Hong Kong, Taiwan was willing to put Chan on trial if Hong Kong doesn't.
However, she said there was no possibility of Chan simply catching a flight to Taipei and insisted Taiwan would not sacrifice its sovereignty in handling the matter.
"I would like to explain that in this case, the murderer is a wanted subject in Taiwan. He is already a wanted criminal suspect in Taiwan with a warrant out for his arrest," Tsai said during a visit to the Taiwanese-held island of Kinmen, just off the Chinese coast.
"Therefore, regarding this case, there is no issue of free travel or just being a backpacker. There is only the matter of arrest and no question of simply turning oneself in," Tsai said.
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