HONG KONG • Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam promised to focus on housing and jobs to try to end three months of sometimes violent unrest, as pro-democracy demonstrators headed for the hills yesterday for a series of lantern-carrying Mid-Autumn Festival human chains.
Mrs Lam said in a Facebook post on Thursday - without giving details - that her government would increase the supply of housing, with more policies to be announced. The Chief Executive also said that the six housing initiatives she proposed in June last year have now been put in place.
The initiatives are: delinking the price of subsidised-sale flats from market prices, the "starter home" pilot scheme, greater support for temporary housing, the reallocation of nine land sites from private to public use, a tax on new flats which have been left vacant, and tackling pre-sale tactics by land developers.
Yesterday, the Hong Kong government gazetted its vacancy tax Bill, aimed at deterring property developers from hoarding flats and thus boosting housing supply, local broadcaster RTHK reported.
"Housing and people's livelihoods are the main priorities," Mrs Lam said. "The government will add to housing supply measures which will be continuously put in place and not missed."
The spark for the protests was a now-withdrawn extradition Bill and concern that Beijing is eroding civil liberties, but many young protesters are also angry at sky-high living costs and a lack of job prospects.
Hong Kong has some of the world's most expensive real estate and many young people say the Chinese city's housing policy is unfair, benefiting the rich while forcing them to live with their parents or to rent tiny "shoebox" apartments at exorbitant prices.
Mrs Lam's comments came as activists plan the latest in a series of protests in the city, which is grappling with its biggest political crisis in decades.
The demonstrations started in June in response to a Bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts, but have since broadened into calls for democracy.
As darkness fell yesterday, protesters armed with flashlights, mobile phones and flashing lanterns gathered to form human chains on Victoria Peak, overlooking the city's harbour, and Lion Rock, separating the New Territories from the Kowloon peninsula.
Housing and people's livelihoods are the main priorities. The government will add to housing supply measures which will be continuously put in place and not missed.
HONG KONG LEADER CARRIE LAM
They were also climbing to the top of Tai Tung Shan on the offshore island of Lantau, using the Mid-Autumn Festival as a backdrop for the latest in the demonstrations that have sometimes flared into violence. The festival is one of the most important celebrations in the Chinese calendar, and is traditionally a time for thanksgiving, spending time with family and praying for good fortune.
Earlier during lunch hour, hundreds of pro-Beijing supporters packed into a shopping mall waving China flags and singing the Chinese national anthem.
Sit-ins at shopping malls are also planned over the weekend.
Activists also plan to gather outside the British consulate tomorrow to demand that China honour the Sino-British Joint Declaration that was signed in 1984, laying out the former British colony's post-1997 future.
China says Hong Kong is now its internal affair. It denies meddling in Hong Kong and has accused the United States, Britain and others of fomenting the unrest. Britain says it has a legal responsibility to ensure China abides by its obligations under the Joint Declaration.
Police have responded to violence with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, water cannon and baton charges, as well as firing several live shots in the air, prompting complaints of excessive force.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing said yesterday he deeply regretted that his recent comments about the protests were misrepresented and reiterated that any actions that violate the rule of law cannot be tolerated.
Mr Li's statement came after China's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission published an article on social media accusing the tycoon of "harbouring criminality" after he called on the authorities to offer young people an olive branch amid the protests.
Mr Li said through his spokesman in a statement he would always accept criticism but most importantly, "lenience is not the same as indulgence, (and) is not the same as disregarding legal procedures".
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE