Chinese paper says Hong Kong demonstrators now have no excuse for violence

People take part in a general strike at Tamar Park in Hong Kong

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam's withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill that had sparked widespread protests was an olive branch that leaves demonstrators with no excuse to continue violence, the official China Daily said on Thursday.

The withdrawal of the bill on Wednesday came after weeks of protests that had sometimes turned into pitched battles across the former British colony of more than 7 million people. More than 1,000 protesters have been arrested.

The bill would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where courts are controlled by the Communist Party. Its withdrawal was one of the five key demands of the protesters.

The state-run China Daily said the decision was "a sincere and earnest response to the voice of the community ... (that) could be interpreted as an olive branch extended to those who have opposed the bill over the past few months".

The protests began in March but snowballed in June and have evolved into a push for greater democracy for the city, which returned to China in 1997 as a Special Administrative Region (SAR). It was not clear if pulling the bill - which had been suspended since June - would help end the unrest.

The headline of the China Daily's editorial said "protesters now have no excuse to continue violence".

"The SAR government has given a chance to Hong Kong residents to replace antagonism and confrontation with peace and dialogue," the editorial said.

"And hopefully, peace and stability will be restored in a timely manner so the city can redirect its energy and time in solving its social and economic problems," it said.

(Reporting by John Ruwitch; Editing by Paul Tait)