Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says the extradition bill that sparked the Chinese-ruled city's biggest crisis in decades is dead and that government work on the legislation had been a "total failure", but critics accuse her of playing with words.
The bill, which would allow people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to face trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, sparked huge and at times violent street protests and plunged the former British colony into turmoil.
In mid-June, Lam responded to protests that drew hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets by suspending the bill, but that did not stop demonstrations that shut government offices and brought parts of the financial centre to a standstill.
Her latest attempt to restore order did not satisfy many protesters who stood by demands that she completely withdraw the bill.
"There are still lingering doubts about the government's sincerity or worries whether the government will restart the process in the Legislative Council," Lam told reporters on Tuesday.
"So, I reiterate here, there is no such plan, the bill is dead." The government's work on the bill had been a "total failure", she said.
The bill triggered outrage across broad sections of Hong Kong society amid concerns it would threaten the much-cherished rule of law that underpins the city's international financial status.
Critics of the extradition bill fear Beijing could use it to crack down on dissent.
University students who have been out in force during the protests denounced Lam's comments.
Demonstrators have also called for Lam to resign as Hong Kong chief executive, for an independent investigation into police actions against protesters, and for the government to abandon the description of a violent protest on June 12 as a riot.
China has called the protests an "undisguised challenge" to the "one country, two systems" model under which Hong Kong is ruled.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, asked about Lam's remarks, referred to the central government's statement on June 15 supporting Hong Kong's decision to shelve the extradition bill. He said he had nothing further to add.
Chief executives of Hong Kong are selected by a small committee of pro-establishment figures stacked in Beijing's favour and formally appointed by China's central government. Lam's resignation would require Beijing's approval, experts say.
Lam said the June 12 protest, which saw police fire tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds at demonstrators, had not been given a label, but reiterated any decision to prosecute would be one for the justice department.
"Any demand that we should run an amnesty at this stage, that we will not follow up on investigations and prosecutions of offenders is not acceptable, because that bluntly goes against the rule of law in Hong Kong," she said.
"My sincere plea is: Please give us an opportunity, the time, the room, to take Hong Kong out of the current impasse and try to improve the current situation."
Australian Associated Press