Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam issues apology

By AAP Newswire

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has apologised to the public for her handling of a controversial legislative bill that would allow for extraditions to China.

"The chief executive acknowledged that the lack of government work has caused great contradictions and disputes in the community of Hong Kong," the government said in a statement.

"Many members of the public are disappointed and saddened. The chief executive apologises to the public and promises to accept it with the utmost sincerity and humility," the statement added.

Lam's apology came as hundreds of thousands marched in the streets and called for her resignation, with many saying they were unhappy she had only suspended the bill without withdrawing it completely.

The government said it does not have a timetable to restart discussions on the bill.

The conflict, which slipped into unusually violent clashes with police last week, is one of the toughest tests of the territory's special status since China took control in a 1997 handover.

The demonstrators carried banners demanding that Lam step down and repeatedly broke into chants.

Walking slowly and shouting "withdraw" and "resign", the crowd filled a wide thoroughfare and side streets paralleling the waterfront of Victoria Harbour as tourists and shoppers who drive much of the Asian financial hub's economy looked on.

Lam's announcement on Saturday that she was suspending the legislation failed to mollify critics of the measure who see it as one of many steps chipping away at Hong Kong's freedoms and legal autonomy.

Opponents worry the law could be used to send criminal suspects to China to potentially face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials.

"Our demands are simple. Carrie Lam must leave office, the extradition law must be withdrawn and the police must apologise for using extreme violence against their own people," bank worker John Chow said as he marched with a group of his friends.

Sunday's march looked likely to match in scale one a week earlier that brought as many as 1 million people out to express their concern over Hong Kong's relations with mainland China.

Protesters focused their anger on Lam, even while acknowledging that she had little choice but to carry through dictates issued by Beijing, where President Xi Jinping has enforced increasingly authoritarian rule.

Many believe Hong Kong's legal autonomy has been significantly diminished despite Beijing's insistence that it is still honouring its promise, dubbed "one country, two systems," that the territory can retain its own social, legal and political system for 50 years after the handover.

By the early evening, local time, thousands of protesters were still gathered outside government headquarters, although there were no signs of a replay of the violence that broke out at the same spot last week.

Pro-democracy activists were calling for a general strike on Monday despite Lam's decision to suspend work on the legislation.