HONG KONG • Hong Kong's leader warned that the city risked sliding into "an abyss", in a contentious news conference in which she continued to sidestep key questions about the government's response to 10 weeks of unrest.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam yesterday repeated her defence of the police's use of tear gas against protesters, saying she would not question law enforcement tactics.
She said that police continued to use "the lowest level of force".
She did not answer repeated questions shouted at her about whether she should step down or formally withdraw the extradition Bill which prompted the increasingly violent protests that have scared away tourists, disrupted commutes and repeatedly shut down the city's main airport since Monday.
She said the mass sit-in at Hong Kong International Airport, which has forced the cancellation of flights, as well as police station sieges and road blocks during protests had made the city unsafe.
Mrs Lam appeared to choke up when cautioning Hong Kong against the risk of "critical injury".
"I again call on everyone to set aside prejudices, and be calm to look at the city, our home, do we really want to push it into an abyss?" she said.
Speaking to the media before reconvening the Executive Council, which is her de facto Cabinet, she said it would be her responsibility to rebuild Hong Kong's economy and address the people's concerns after the unrest.
While she has declared the extradition Bill dead a month ago, she has offered no concessions so far, provoking the media onslaught.
She declined to say if Beijing had stopped her from meeting protesters' demands, including fully withdrawing the shelved extradition Bill and appointing an independent commission to look into allegations of police abuse.
Forty pro-Beijing lawmakers issued a joint statement yesterday to support the police, saying the force was stopping violence in the city, the South China Morning Post reported.
Mrs Lam's superiors in Beijing have demanded an end to the protests before addressing any underlying grievances.
"You blame your own political misjudgment on others and refuse to acknowledge your mistakes," said a reporter from Hong Kong's public broadcaster RTHK.
"When will you accept political responsibility to end citizens' fear?... When will you be willing to step down? When will you tell the police to stop?"
The combative news conference was an indication of the rising tensions in the city after a weekend of violence that left dozens of people with injuries, some of them serious.
Asked if she would visit the young woman who suffered an eye injury during police clearances of protesters on Sunday, Mrs Lam said: "When it is convenient, I am willing to do so."
She added: "I am sad about anyone injured during protests and violent acts. I hope that they will get well soon."
Mrs Lam at times appeared caught off-guard by the intensity of the questioning, with reporters repeatedly interrupting her and accusing her of failing to respond.
"Please don't interrupt," an official pleaded as reporters shouted over Mrs Lam.
The barrage continued even as Mrs Lam abruptly left the podium.
"Do you have a conscience?" shouted one journalist.
"Mrs Lam, many citizens have been asking recently when you will die," yelled another.