Carrie Lam says she will 'tackle violence head on' as recession hits Hong Kong

Chief executive denies Beijing is planning to replace her and says she will ‘handle the situation’

After five months of protests, Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam has said her government will “tackle the violence head on” as the Asian financial hub slips into a recession, its first since the global financial crisis.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Lam said she expected Hong Kong to register negative growth for the full year of 2019. Last week, the government said it would spend HK$2bn ($255m) to support sectors hit by the protests, following a previous HK$19.1bn ($2.4bn) relief package.

When asked what political solutions her government would seek to end unrest, in addition to the economic measures, Lam said: “The situation we are now facing is anti-government violence. So the most effective solution is to tackle the violence head on. For the government to resort to measures that will appease the violent rioters, I don’t think that is a solution.”

Lam said: “Many Hong Kong people … may have some unhappiness and grievances about the government policies, about the government handling of this major crisis but the time now is really to put in all our efforts to say no to violence.”

The remarks by Lam underline the government’s intransigence in the face of demonstrators who have vowed to continue protesting until all five of their demands are met, which include an independent inquiry into police behaviour, the implementation of universal suffrage, and Lam’s resignation.

One of the demands, the formal withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill that originally kicked off the protest movement, has already been met. But the protest movement has evolved beyond the extradition bill.

Pro-democracy activists and protesters are also looking ahead to district council elections in November. On Monday, Joshua Wong, a student leader of 2014 pro-democracy protests, said he had been disqualified from running in the elections.

Speaking on Tuesday, Lam refuted a Financial Times report that Beijing has been preparing to replace her by next year with an “interim chief executive” to serve out the rest of Lam’s term.

“From the beginning of this social unrest until now, the central government has been very supportive and remains confident that I, myself … will be able to handle the situation and end violence and return to Hong Kong to normal as soon as possible.”

Hong Kong’s financial secretary Paul Chan said in a blog post on Sunday that data this week would show two successive quarters of contraction, as tourists numbers have plummeted and businesses have been forced to shutter their doors during protests and rallies.

“The blow to our economy is comprehensive,” Chan said, calling a nearly 50% decline in visitors in October, an “emergency”.

On Sunday, hundreds of protesters clashed with police after a rally in Kowloon. Black-clad protesters set fire to shops and threw molotov cocktails at police who responded by firing tear gas and water cannons. On Monday, police apologised for firing tear gas into a pharmacy and a restaurant while in pursuit of the protesters.


Lily Kuo in Beijing

The GuardianTramp

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