HONG KONG -- With her term likely reduced to lame duck status, Hong Kong's leader offered her most forceful apology yet for championing a massively unpopular extradition bill, but still declined to accede to the demands of 2 million people who took to the streets last Sunday to call for her ouster.
Speaking solemnly at a news conference Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam acknowledged the bill -- which would have allowed Hong Kong to send people to stand trial in China, but was recently suspended -- had triggered conflict and dissatisfaction with her government.
"I personally have to shoulder much of the responsibility," she said. "For this, I offer my most sincere apologies to all people of Hong Kong."
Lam, however, declined to submit to the main demands lodged by her critics, including retracting the bill and resigning. The 62-year-old civil servant said she would not revive the legislation as long as it remained unpopular and she would not resign because she wanted "another chance."
The crisis consuming the city of 7 million highlights Hong Kong's desire to maintain basic democratic rights enshrined in its constitution, even as China moves to integrate the territory further into its authoritarian system.
It's also exposed the spectacular miscalculations of a bureaucrat ostensibly appointed by Beijing two years ago to help bridge the fundamental differences between Hong Kong and mainland China.
At each juncture, critics say, Lam failed to anticipate the magnitude of the bill's unpopularity. It started when she ignored opposition from Hong Kong's business community shortly after the ordinance was proposed in February -- prompting many wealthy individuals to move capital to safe havens such as Singapore.
She was largely silent again when 1 million people demonstrated against the bill on June 9. When riot police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bags at mostly peaceful demonstrators last Wednesday, she called the protests a "blatant organized riot."
The public, however, saw it the other way and were appalled by the police's heavy handed response. Lam then held a press conference Saturday announcing the suspension of the bill, but never apologized and blamed the conflict on her government's poor communications strategy.
The following day, more than one-quarter of Hong Kong's population took to the streets to repudiate her leadership.