Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Monday (Aug 5) gave a rare news conference as pro-democracy protesters carried out a city-wide strike, saying she would not step down as she and her administration were focused on fixing the law and order situation in the territory.
“The recent protests and marches have seen escalating violence, and these worrying acts have gone beyond (protesting the Bill),” she said adding that they are pushing the city to the verge of an extremely dangerous situation.
“Such extensive violence in the name of certain demands or uncooperative movement have seriously undermined Hong Kong’s law and order and are pushing our city, the city we all love and many of us helped to build, to the verge of a very dangerous situation.”
“The great majority of Hong Kongers face anxiety over their daily lives. Some of them do not know whether they can still take some forms of public transport, while others right now are being blocked on their way to work.”
She added: “The government has already announced that the extradition Bill is dead, yet the protesters have continued to rally and strike.
“The government will be resolute in maintaining law and order in Hong Kong and in restoring confidence; This is the time for us to rally together to set aside differences and bring back order and say no to chaos.”
She later referenced calls by protesters for a “revolution”, describing this as a challenge to the “one country, two systems” framework under which Hong Kong has been ruled since it returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
“I dare say they are trying to destroy Hong Kong,” Lam said.
NOT THE TIME TO RESIGN
Ms Lam outlined her government’s shortcomings in addressing the objectives of the extradition Bill.
“What we have not done well is explain in a more efficient manner the objective of this exercise, to engage more and perhaps to listen more,” she said.
“What is now in front of us is an extremely serious matter, and that is Hong Kong’s continued safety, security and prosperity; these are all important elements that the Hong Kong people value very much.”
She added: “We are still very proud of Hong Kong possessing these core values and being an international business and financial centre that is attractive to global investors.”
Ms Lam also said that this was the time for her to continue to lead her team to address those problems and try to bring Hong Kong out of the current difficult situation.
“I don’t think at this point in time, my resignation or that of my colleagues would (help the situation),” she said.
“Hong Kong values freedoms, that include freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of media representation … we respect that expression and we will listen … (but) the crisis in front of us is not about aspirations or the Bill, it is about Hong Kong’s security and law and order.”
DEFENDS POLICE ACTION
The chief executive also defended the conduct of the city’s police force, which has come under severe criticism in the past few weeks for its heavy-handed treatment of protesters.
“We have never singled out the police force for blame,” she said.
“The police force is there safeguarding Hong Kong’s law and order and ensuring the city’s continued safety. ”
She added: “I am very sad every time I meet with the commissioner that the force is under extreme pressure in enforcing the law under very difficult circumstances.”
Ms Lam also appealed to media to understand the difficulties faced by police, adding that police personnel and their families have faced harassment and threats.
“We should all be very worried about this sort of situation,” she said.
Some protesters accused Lam of again fuelling the crisis by ignoring public sentiment, and they pledged to continue with their movement.
“It is totally a waste of time to hear” her speak, said Jay Leung, 20, a university student.
“I don’t think the government is doing anything to heal society,” he added. “They provide no solution to solve the political problem brought on by themselves. Why doesn’t the government reflect its performance?”
On Monday, activists descended on key Mass Transit Railway (MTR) stations during the morning rush hour, deliberately keeping open doors to stop trains departing, causing long queues and triggering occasional scuffles between angry commuters and protesters.
More than 200 flights at the city’s airport – one of the world’s busiest – were also listed as cancelled on Monday morning after aviation authorities warned passengers about potential disruptions.
A video circulating online showed a car blocked by a barricade put up by protesters along a road in Yuen Long.
When protesters surrounded the car, the driver first reversed, then picked up speed and rammed through the barricade. One person was reportedly injured.
PLANNED CITY-WIDE STRIKE
At a press conference on Saturday, strike organisers – many hiding their identities behind masks – said 14,000 people from more than 20 sectors had committed to civic action on Monday.
People from all walks of life indicated plans online to either strike or phone in sick on Monday – from civil servants and social workers, to flight attendants, pilots, bus drivers and even employees of the city’s Disneyland.
“Support for the political strike today seems strong and it’s been bolstered further by the escalating violence between the police and protesters,” political analyst Dixon Wong told AFP.
The protests in the semi-autonomous southern Chinese city were triggered by opposition to a planned extradition law but quickly evolved into a wider movement for democratic reform and a halt to eroding freedoms.
Under the terms of the 1997 handover deal with Britain, Hong Kong has rights and liberties unseen on the Chinese mainland, including an independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say those rights are being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.
Public anger has been compounded by rising inequality and the perception that the city’s distinct language and culture are being threatened by ever-closer integration with the Chinese mainland.