Protests could push Hong Kong “down a path of no return,” city leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday, claiming that protests in the semiautonomous territory had created “a state of panic and chaos.”
“Hong Kong, as an open, free, very tolerant, economically stable city will see severe wounds,” Lam said.
Protests began 10 weeks ago in opposition to a bill to allow extradition to mainland China for those facing criminal charges, but they have grown into wider calls for democracy. Demonstrators say they want to fight the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that, on paper, had enshrined some autonomy for Hong Kong when China took it back from Britain in 1997. They have also documented excessive force by police, who have attempted to put down demonstrations with tear gas and bean bag pellets fired at close range.
Lam did not address protesters’ demands for an independent inquiry. “I ask everybody to put aside our differences and calm down, take a minute to look at our city, our home,” Lam said. “Can we bear to push it into the abyss and see it smashed to pieces?”
The territory’s chief executive, whose resignation is one of the protesters’ central demands, faced questioning from reporters, who repeatedly interrupted her as she defended the conduct of police, who met demonstrations with increasing violence over the weekend. Lam said police, bound by “rigid and stringent guidelines on the appropriate use of force,” faced “extremely difficult circumstances.” And she dodged a question about whether she had the power to end the standoff by granting one of the key demands of the protesters: to fully withdraw the now-suspended bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China.
Flights have resumed at Hong Kong’s airport after Monday’s shutdown. Officials closed the hub following a peaceful sit-in by several thousand black-clad protesters that disrupted operations. But further protests at the airport are planned for later on Tuesday.
Hong Kong’s flagship airline, Cathay Pacific, warned its staff on Monday that supporting “illegal protests” could result in being fired. Cathay’s announcement follows new rules imposed by Beijing, banning airline staff members who have been involved in the Hong Kong protests from flying to or over the mainland.
The United States, Canada and European Union have called on all sides to show restraint and avoid violence that could escalate the situation in one of the world’s main business hubs. In addition to weak data from India and Singapore, protests have fed investor anxiety. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell dropped by about 1.2%. Regional benchmarks —Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney — retreated.
mkg, cw/rg (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)
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