Hong Kong falling into an abyss, says emotional Lam

Carrie Lam gets emotional during a press conference. (Reuters pic)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam deflected questions about whether she and her government needed a course correction in a rowdy news conference Tuesday.

Lam pleas

Ahead of a meeting of the city’s Executive Council, Lam addressed reporters after the city’s international airport continued to suffer hundreds of flight cancellations as it resumed normal operation after a mass sit-in by anti-government protesters.

When asked why police had fired tear gas in residential areas, Lam said police had used the “lowest level of force”. She urged calm, a refrain in recent weeks as violence between protesters and police worsens and tear gas is regularly deployed in crowded areas across the city.

She sidestepped questions on whether she would resign, one of the key protester demands, and whether she had concrete proposals to ease residents’ fears. “It would take a very long time to restore Hong Kong,” she said, choking up. “I again call on everyone to set aside prejudice, and be calm to look at the city, our home. Do we really want to push it into the abyss?”

The city’s rule of law is being hurt, she said, and non-cooperation events affected the airport and traffic. Lam also said she saw further suffering for the city’s economy, and that dialogue between the two sides could resume after violence stops.

Airport situation

The airport is operating normally as of now. Although the airport authority is re-scheduling 90 canceled flights from Monday, it may cancel even more flights Tuesday depending on the situation. Cathay Pacific has canceled more than 200 flights to and out of Hong Kong so far on Tuesday.

Thousands of black-clad demonstrators occupied the airport on Monday, though most have now left after the government had threatened to use tear gas to disperse them.

Demonstrators swarmed the main terminal building for a fourth day, the biggest disruption yet to the city’s economy since demonstrations began in early June.  Some protesters remained at the arrival hall calling for a return to the airport at 1 p.m. Tuesday. A flyer has been circulated online featuring an airplane and blue sky, calling for people to gather.

Hong Kong Airlines vowed its support for the city’s government and police and condemned protester violence in a half-page advertisement in pro-Beijing local newspaper Wen Wei Po. It came as state-run Air China Ltd. canceled dozens of scheduled flights to the city on Tuesday, citing issues at the airport in a post to its official account on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Weekend violence

Violence over the weekend saw the police fire tear gas into a subway station and rubber bullets at close range. Officers had warned a separate group of protesters to disperse after they gathered outside the police headquarters in the downtown area of Wan Chai. At one point, a policeman came out to accept a letter from a protester, and both of them shook hands. Still, the crowds continued to linger.

Hong Kong police is promising an investigation after protesters were chased into a subway station and shot with pepper balls at close range.

Signs of “terrorism”

China stepped up its rhetoric on Monday, with a key mainland official saying protesters have committed serious crimes and showed signs of “terrorism.”

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of China’s state-run Global Times, said on his Weibo account that if the situation in Hong Kong doesn’t improve, he thinks China will intervene.

Earlier, the paramilitary Chinese People’s Armed Police were seen assembling in Shenzhen city ahead of “apparent large-scale exercises,” Global Times reported on its website, citing videos it obtained. Numerous armored personnel carriers, trucks and other vehicles of the force were seen heading toward Shenzhen over the weekend.

More Rallies Planned

The Civil Human Rights Front, a group that has organized some of the largest rallies during 10 weeks of protests, announced that it would hold another “mass march” on Sunday, Aug 18. The group will brief reporters on Tuesday.

On Monday, police concluded a marathon hours-long media briefing by saying they had completed road tests of water cannon vehicles that could now be deployed depending on the situation.

Hong Kong has come to a “critical juncture” and all people who care about its future should say no to violence, Yang Guang, a spokesman for its Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told reporters on Monday.