Hong Kong protests: China has ‘repeatedly refused’ to let leader Carrie Lam resign
Hong Kong was reeling from fresh violence between protesters and police on Monday as it was reported that the city’s leader Carrie Lam had attempted to resign several times in recent weeks over the ongoing unrest.
Ms Lam, appointed by Beijing, has admitted her government’s “total failure” in handling a proposed extradition bill that would have allowed the territory to deport criminal suspects to mainland China for trial.
Public anger at the bill resulted in the worst disorder in decades, including a record protest march last month that had as many as two million participants.
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Amid the marches and international criticism of the heavy-handed conduct of police in dealing with protesters, Ms Lam repeatedly offered to step aside, according to a report in the Financial Times, only for Beijing to insist she stays on.
The central government is of the view that “no one else can clean up the mess and no one else wants the job”, according to an unnamed official said to have direct knowledge of the situation.
Ms Lam’s resignation has been one of the core demands of the protest movement since the unrest began, but the chief executive has repeatedly insisted she must be given the chance to win back Hong Kongers’ trust. The idea that she is in fact staying in power unwillingly will only make her position more untenable.
Meanwhile, Ms Lam expressed concern for the safety of the city’s police officers after Sunday was marred by yet more clashes with demonstrators.
The protest centred around a shopping complex in the northern Sha Tin district, popular with Chinese visitors, and was peaceful for most of the day until fights broke out when night fell and police started clearing the streets.
Some protesters retreated into the shopping centre where they and police hit each other with clubs and umbrellas.
Ms Lam called the latter group of protesters “rioters”, a legally loaded term in the city, and said she supported the police in upholding law and order.
The chief executive visited a hospital where three police officers injured in the clashes were being treated. “We thank the police officers for maintaining social order loyally and professionally, but they have suffered in attacks from those rioters – they can be called rioters,” she said.
After attempting to strike a note of contrition in the last two weeks, her shift to harder language risks raising tension. More demonstrations are planned for the coming days.
Police Chief Stephen Lo said late on Sunday that more than 40 people were arrested on charges including assaulting police and illegal assembly. The government said 28 people, including 10 police, were injured in the clashes.
Security chief John Lee said the government was concerned at an apparent escalation of violence by activists who threw bricks and iron bars.
“We found that people who attacked the police were very organised … they are well-planned and there are plans to deliberately do damage and disrupt social stability,” Lee said as he visited the hospital with Lam.
Both pro-democracy legislators and politicians who support China’s central government held news conferences to address the latest violence.
Pro-democracy leader Claudia Mo described the current unrest as “the biggest political and governance crisis Hong Kong has ever faced”.
“The whole of Hong Kong found it difficult to cope,” she said. “We urge once again Carrie Lam to come out and face the people.”
And pro-Beijing politician Starry Lee called on both sides to “come out and establish communication channels”.
“I think [Ms Lam] and also the bureau responsible should come out and respond to this issue,” Lee said. “Otherwise Hong Kong will be the loser and no Hong Kong person wants to see this happen again and again.”