Hong Kong leader mulls “all legal means” to calm protest
HONG KONG, Kyodo - Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Tuesday that all legal means will be considered to calm the months-long social unrest over a now-suspended extradition bill that has grown more violent in recent weeks.
Asked at a press conference if she would consider invoking a law that would allow the government to enforce emergency regulations, instead of seeking Chinese army intervention to quell the ongoing protests, Lam said she still prefers handling the situation locally.
“As of today, the special administrative region government is still confident of handling by ourselves the social conflict that has lasted more than two months. I believe that is also the people's wish, that we handle it ourselves,” she said.
Under the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, Hong Kong's chief executive and her Cabinet may declare a state of emergency, and make regulations and punishment with unrestricted scope of power.
Under the Basic Law, the territory's mini-constitution in effect since the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, Hong Kong could seek help from the People's Liberation Army to maintain public order.
Millions of protesters have taken to the streets since June demanding a complete withdrawal of the controversial bill, which would allow fugitive transfers to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong does not have extradition arrangements, including mainland China.
Their demands have grown to include an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality against protesters, pardons for arrested protesters and democratic reform.
Amid popular opposition to the legislation, Lam indefinitely suspended work on it in the territory's legislature in June. But her decisions to suspend the bill, rather than fully withdraw it, and to set up a platform for dialogue have failed to stop the protests, which have in some cases ended in violent clashes with police.
“It's a pity that the moment of calm we saw last week has dissipated, while subsequent protests have grown more violent,” Lam said. “More deadly weapons were used against police, petrol bombs were thrown at officers and police vehicles and shops were damaged, leaving the general public in fear.”
In one of two protests over the weekend, six police officers drew their guns and one of them fired a warning shot to defend themselves from an attacking mob at one point, police have said.
A total of 883 people, including 15 aged between 12 and 15, have been arrested for a range of crimes since June 9 when the mass protests began. Of them, 136 have been charged, according to police figures Tuesday.
“As a law enforcement department, it is inappropriate for police to comment on reports about the emergency regulations ordinance,” Chief Superintendent of Police Public Relations Branch Tse Chun-chung said. “But let me stress that police have the ability to handle the current chaos in Hong Kong.”
Pro-democracy lawmaker James To said invoking the emergency ordinance would be tantamount to applying martial law, and that such a measure would do nothing to alleviate public anger and might actually expedite the diminishment of Hong Kong's international stature.
“Simply put, this is (imposing) martial law, which means banning even peaceful demonstrations,” To told reporters. “Would Hong Kong then still be a city of freedom?”
The bill and subsequent protests have drawn concerns from foreign countries over the interests of their citizens in Hong Kong and China's handling of its relations with the territory.
The Group of Seven -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States -- said in a statement issued Monday that it “reaffirms the existence and importance of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 on Hong Kong and calls for violence to be avoided.”
The declaration paved the way for Hong Kong's handover to China and stated that Hong Kong is to enjoy a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years. But China has recently stated that the declaration is a historical document that has no real meaning and called on foreign governments not to interfere in its internal affairs.
“We express strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to the gossiping and finger-pointing at Hong Kong affairs in the G-7 Summit leaders' declaration,” China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a regular press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday.
“Would the G-7 member states please stop being nosy and contemplating ill-intended plots,” he said. “No country or organization has the right to use the Sino-British Joint Declaration as an excuse to meddle in Hong Kong affairs.” (Kyodo)