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Hundreds of thousands clog HK streets to demand leader resign

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Chief Executive Carrie Lam apologises for causing 'conflict and disputes'

HONG KONG Hundreds of thousands of people clogged the streets in central Hong Kong yesterday dressed in black to demand the city's leader step down, a day after she suspended an extradition Bill in a dramatic retreat following the most violent protests in decades.

Late yesterday Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam issued an apology for the way her administration tried to pass the bill.

"The chief executive admitted that shortcomings in the government's work has led to a lot of conflict and disputes in Hong Kong society and has disappointed and distressed many citizens," a statement from her office said.

"The chief executive apologises to the citizens and promises to accept criticism with the most sincere and humble attitude," it added.

The massive rally saw some protesters carry white carnation flowers, others held banners saying, "Do not shoot, we are Hong Kongers," as they sought to avoid a repeat of the violence that rocked the city last week when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas.

The protesters formed a sea of black on roads, walkways and train stations across Hong Kong's financial centre to vent their frustration and anger at Ms Lam. Cheers rang out when activists called for Ms Lam to step down and "step down" echoed through the streets.

Protesters also chanted "pursue the black police", angry at what they say was an overreaction by police that left more than 70 people injured in last Wednesday's violent protest. Beijing-backed Mrs Lam on Saturday indefinitely delayed the extradition Bill that could send people to mainland China to face trial.

China said on Saturday it supported the decision to suspend the Bill. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman called the decision an attempt to "listen more widely to the views of the community and restore calm to the community as soon as possible".

It was one of the most significant political turnarounds by the Hong Kong government since Britain returned the territory to China in 1997.

Asked repeatedly on Saturday if she would step down, Ms Lam avoided answering directly and appealed to the public to "give us another chance".