Addressing the public for the first time in weeks, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday lashed out at protesters for hurting the city as they moved to immobilize Asia’s financial center with a general strike.
A visibly irritated Lam said the recent wave of demonstrations seeking to disrupt daily life has pushed the city to the “verge of a very dangerous situation.”
Her hastily called press conference comes as the semiautonomous Chinese enclave begins its ninth consecutive week of protests with a citywide strike that aims to increase pressure on the administration. On Monday morning, commuters struggled to get to work as several public transportation lines were forced to suspend service and traffic snarled as protesters dragged roadblocks across major thoroughfares. More than 100 flights out of the city’s airport were cancelled.
“As a result of these widespread disruptions and violence, the great majority of Hong Kong people are now in a state of great anxiety. Some of them don’t know whether they could still take some forms of public transport, while others are right now being blocked on the way to work,” she said.
The strike follows a weekend of clashes between brick-throwing demonstrators and tear gas and rubber bullet-firing police. Protesters also tore down a Chinese national flag from a pole and threw it into the harbor in a symbolic gesture jettisoning Beijing’s authority over the city.
Lam condemned the protesters’ behavior and said it is now time to “set aside differences and support the restoration of law and order as soon as possible.” She called on the city’s residents to “rally together.”
But the protests show no sign of abating. What began as a backlash to an unpopular extradition bill has now swelled into a broader movement calling for full democracy and self-determination. Many of the black-clad protesters see themselves as foot soldiers in a rebellion against China’s sovereignty over the territory.
“The nature of these violent protests has changed,” said Lam. She accused the protesters of operating with “ulterior motives” that will “destroy Hong Kong.” The ongoing unrest, she said, jeopardizes the city’s “continued safety, security, and of course, prosperity.”
Beijing-backed Lam has come under mounting pressure to quell the growing political crisis. Over the weekend, Chinese state media warned that the “central government will not sit idly by and let this situation continue.”
Lam also reiterated once again that, despite protesters’ demands, she will not resign.
“I don’t think at this point that the resignation of myself or my colleagues will provide a better solution,” she said.
Members of her own administration took part in a civil servants’ demonstration Friday evening, illustrating just how far discontent has spread.
Fresh protests are slated to take place Monday afternoon across the city, including in front of the government headquarters and at several locations in suburbs nearer to the border with the mainland.
— Reporting by Hillary Leung / Hong Kong