Monday 21 October 2019

Hong Kong chief won't rule out asking Beijing for help in crisis


On edge: Protesters are arrested by police during a clash in Hong Kong. Photo: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
On edge: Protesters are arrested by police during a clash in Hong Kong. Photo: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Clare Jim and Noah Sin in Hong Kong

Hong Kong's embattled leader Carrie Lam has not ruled out asking Beijing for help as the Asian financial hub struggles to deal with months of often violent anti-government protests that are damaging its economy.

Ms Lam said Beijing wanted Hong Kong to solve its own problems, but under its mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, Hong Kong could ask Beijing for help.

"If the situation becomes so bad, then no options could be ruled out, if we want Hong Kong to at least have another chance," Ms Lam said.

"But at this moment, I and my team, we are still very committed in making sure we can use our own instruments... to try and restore calm and order in Hong Kong," she said, adding there were no plans to expand emergency laws banning face masks introduced on Friday.

"But I would appeal [to] everyone in society to join hands to achieve this objective."

The protests, which show no sign of abating, pose the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012 and are Hong Kong's thorniest political crisis since Britain returned it to China in 1997.

Ms Lam said protests were severely damaging the local economy.

"Hong Kong's various sectors will enter a severe winter season," she said.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong over the weekend wearing face masks, despite Ms Lam having banned masks under colonial-era emergency laws invoked on Friday.

Protesters have been using masks to shield their identities and to protect their faces from tear gas fired by police.

The rallies spiralled into some of the most violent clashes since protests started four months ago, forcing the unprecedented shut down of the city's metro after many stations were torched and scores of shops and China banks damaged.

Police said yesterday 77 people had been arrested for violating the anti-mask law. Since Friday, more than 200 shops and public utilities have been damaged.

"Rioters' level of violence has been escalating, without showing any sign of abating from week to week, and has reached a very critical level," said Kwok Yam-yung, a regional police commander.

"Such ruthless and reckless acts are pushing the rule of law to the brink of total collapse."

Sunday also saw the first interaction between protesters and Chinese troops stationed in the territory. Protesters targeted a military barracks with lasers prompting troops to hoist a banner warning they could be arrested. Senior People's Liberation Army officers have said violence will not be tolerated.

What started as opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill has grown into a pro-democracy movement against Beijing's tightening grip on the city, which protesters say undermines a "one country, two systems" formula promised when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule.

China dismisses such accusations, saying foreign governments, including Britain and the United States, have fanned anti-China sentiment.

US President Donald Trump said on Monday that anything bad happening in Hong Kong would be damaging to US-China trade talks.

The protests have threatened to entangle global businesses that have alluded to the turmoil in publicity material, including US luxury jewellery retailer Tiffany and Co

Chinese state television said it would not air NBA exhibition games played in the country this week after a tweet by a Houston Rockets executive backing the protests.

"In our opinion, any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability should not be regarded as a freedom of expression," CCTV said.

The October holiday week is a time when Hong Kong is flooded with visitors, but many shops have been closed and tourism is down 50pc.

Irish Independent

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