HONG KONG (AFP, REUTERS, AP) - Hong Kong’s embattled pro-Beijing leader on Monday (Aug 5) said that pro-democracy protesters are trying to “destroy” the city, in a dramatic escalation of rhetoric as the financial hub is rocked by months of rallies and clashes.
Protests and clashes with police have pushed the semi-autonomous southern Chinese city to a “very dangerous situation”, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said, as she struck a defiant tone as strikes and travel chaos hit the city.
Mrs Lam has maintained a low profile as two months of unprecedented protests raged.
But on Monday, she held a press conference – her first in more than two weeks – as activists launched a civil disobedience campaign against the city’s transport network, part of an attempted citywide strike.
Mrs Lam, who was chosen by a Beijing loyalist committee, showed no sign of backing down or ceding to protester demands for greater democratic freedoms and an independent inquiry into police violence.
Instead, she condemned the increasingly violent and confrontational tactics adopted by protesters in recent weeks.
“Such extensive disruptions in the name of certain demands or uncooperative movement has seriously undermined Hong Kong’s law and order and are pushing our city, the city that we all love and many of us helped to build, to the verge of a very dangerous situation,” she said at a press conference at 10am, accompanied by her policy secretaries.
Widespread disruptions and violence, she said, were putting Hong Kongers “in a state of great anxiety”, and she vowed to continue cracking down.
“We saw recently, it is already clear that people are impertinently proposing to ‘reclaim Hong Kong, revolution of our times’... and challenge the country’s national sovereignty,” she said, referencing the now most commonly heard chant used at demonstrations.
“I dare say it is trying to topple Hong Kong, completely destroy the cherished lives of more than seven million people.”
Mrs Lam again rejected calls from protesters for her to resign and said the government would be resolute in maintaining law and order. She warned that the protests were putting Hong Kong on a path of no return and had hurt the city’s economy.
"I don’t think at this point in time, resignation of myself or some of my colleagues would provide a better solution,” she said.
Asked how she would deal with the current crisis, Mrs Lam said: "The only way to deal with violence is not to do anything to give rise to more violence, or to give more pretext for some of the protestors to resort to more violence.
"The only way to deal with this is to rely on the rule of law, which is the most important core value of Hong Kong, and that requires the police, and maybe other law enforcement agencies, enforcing the law against people who breach the law, and also the prosecution authority to make sure that justice is done. "
Protesters say they have been forced to adopt more violent tactics after years of huge rallies failed to halt sliding freedoms in the city under Beijing’s rule.
They also accuse police of using excessive violence – allegations the city’s police force has rejected.
Meanwhile, Ms Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy lawmaker, said Beijing should consider engaging with protesters through Mrs Lam.
“We hope the learned people in Beijing would at least deliver some sincerity by suggesting via Carrie Lam, ‘Okay, you guys want democracy, perhaps we can talk'," Ms Mo said on Monday. “We can talk – just three words. And maybe that can help appease the society.”