Hong Kong leader warns protesters not to push city into ‘abyss’
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has warned anti-government protesters not to push the city into an “abyss”, in an emotional press conference on Tuesday.
Ms Lam warned that Hong Kong had “reached [a] dangerous situation” and that violence during protests would push it “down a path of no return”.
She was met with hostility as she dodged questions by reporters, who repeatedly shouted and cut her off.
Mass unrest has rocked the city for 10 weeks and shows no signs of abating.
The protests began in response to a proposed extradition bill, which has now been suspended.
They have evolved into a more demanding pro-democracy movement, fuelled by fear that the freedoms Hong Kong enjoys as a special administrative region of China are being eroded.
“The situation in Hong Kong in the past week has made me very worried that we have reached [a] dangerous situation,” said Ms Lam, according to AFP news agency.
Her comments came a day after protesters occupied the city’s international airport, forcing hundreds of flights to be cancelled.
What’s happening at the airport?
Authorities said on Tuesday that operations have resumed, but warned flights would still be affected.
Flagship carrier Cathay Pacific said it had cancelled more than 200 inbound and outbound flights, and would run only a limited number for connecting passengers.
Around 50 protesters remained camped in the terminals on Tuesday morning, while more than 100 passengers were spotted queuing at Cathay’s ticket counter, Reuters news agency reported.
Hong Kong’s Airport Authority added that there were “calls online” for a public assembly in the airport on Tuesday afternoon.
What did Carrie Lam tell the media?
Ms Lam appeared close to tears at her Tuesday press conference as she called on the protesters to put aside their differences.
“Take a minute to think, look at our city, our home – do you all really want to see it pushed into an abyss?” AFP quoted her as saying.
Her comments echoed similar remarks by an official from the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong, who said the city would slide “into a bottomless abyss if the terror atrocities are allowed to continue”.
Ms Lam evaded a question on whether she had the autonomy to completely withdraw the extradition bill, a key demand of protesters, saying she had answered the question in the past.
Amid claims that the police used disproportionate force to clear protests on Sunday, she appeared to defend their actions, saying they were acting under “extremely difficult circumstances”.
Footage captured last weekend showed police shooting non-lethal ammunition at protesters from close range.
Officers were also seen storming an enclosed railway station before firing tear gas inside and beating people with batons, sparking renewed allegations of brutality.
The Hong Kong leader said police operations could not have been “determined by someone like myself”, saying they had to make “on the spot judgments”.
Ms Lam added that her role was to “ensure that Hong Kong remains a safe and orderly” city.
“After the violence has been stopped and the chaotic situation subsides… I will be responsible [for] rebuilding Hong Kong’s economy, to listen as attentively as possible to my people’s grievances and try to help Hong Kong to move on,” she said.
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