Hong Kong’s leader has apologised for an unpopular extradition bill that drew massive protests and indicated that it will not be revived during the current legislative session.

But Chief Executive Carrie Lam did not formally retract the legislation.

She also said she hopes to finish her term, shrugging off calls for her resignation.

Ms Lam acknowledged that it was unlikely she could win public trust in the bill, which would allow some suspects to face trial in mainland Chinese courts.

A man holds an umbrella outside the Legislative Council
A man holds an umbrella outside the Legislative Council (Vincent Yu/AP)

“In recognition of the anxiety and fears caused by the bill in the last few months, if we don’t have confidence from the people we will not proceed with the legislative exercise again,” Ms Lam said.

“I will not proceed with this legislative exercise if these fears and anxieties could not be adequately addressed,” she said.

The bill ignited several massive protests, including a march by nearly two million people on Sunday and by as many as one million people a week earlier.

Activists rejected Ms Lam’s earlier apologies for her handling of the legislation, which touched a nerve not easily soothed in a city anxious over the increasingly authoritarian Communist rule of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Tens of thousands of protesters march through the streets in Hong Kong
Protesters marched through the streets in Hong Kong on Sunday (Kin Cheung/AP)

The uproar has also highlighted worries that Hong Kong is losing the special autonomous status China promised it when it took control from Britain in 1997.

Scenes at the protests were similar to demonstrations in 2014, when people camped for weeks in the streets demanding direct elections of the city’s chief executive, who is chosen by a pro-Beijing committee.

One concern over the extradition bill is that it might be used to send critics of Communist Party rule to the mainland to face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials.

Ms Lam insists the legislation is needed for Hong Kong to uphold justice and not become a magnet for fugitives.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam arrives to give a press conference at the Legislative Council
Carrie Lam arrives to give a press conference at the Legislative Council (Kin Cheung/AP)

It would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.

So far, China has been excluded from Hong Kong’s extradition agreements because of concerns over the independence of its courts and its human rights record.

The vast majority of Hong Kong residents fled persecution, political chaos or poverty and famine on the Chinese mainland.

They value stability but also cherish freedoms of dissent and legal protections not allowed for people on the mainland.