Hong Kong Leader’s Annual Speech Is Disrupted by Jeering Lawmakers

VOICES.NEWS- — Pro-democracy lawmakers drove Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, from the legislative chamber on Wednesday as she pr...

VOICES.NEWS- — Pro-democracy lawmakers drove Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, from the legislative chamber on Wednesday as she prepared to make a speech outlining policy ideas for dealing with Hong Kong’s roiling crisis.
As Mrs. Lam took her place at the chamber’s lectern to deliver her annual policy address, lawmakers repeatedly jeered and shouted at her, demanding her resignation. After two failed attempts, Mrs. Lam retreated, and she later delivered the speech by video from a protected location.

Mrs. Lam, who is under pressure from China’s central government to put an end to the increasingly violent protests that have gone on for more than four months, showed no signs of compromise in her address.

“Any acts that advocate Hong Kong’s independence and threaten the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests will not be tolerated,” she said.

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Pro-democracy lawmakers had reacted with anger to Mrs. Lam’s presence before she even said a word. When she entered the chamber, they played a recording of high-pitched screams and the firing of tear gas, to evoke the protests. As they shouted, the image of a central protest movement slogan, “Five demands, not one less!” was suddenly projected onto the stage. Mrs. Lam stood silently at the lectern before retreating.
“Please step down,” a pro-democracy lawmaker, Tanya Chan, said after Mrs. Lam retreated. “This is the only way we can have a good future.”

Mrs. Lam used her address to announce a series of measures aimed at tackling long-held economic grievances in Hong Kong, including rising inequality and the high cost of living. She said she would work to reclaim private land to build more public housing.

But she avoided addressing the political demands of the protesters, such as an investigation of the police’s use of force and a call for free elections, that are at the center of the territory’s worst crisis in decades.

As Carrie Lam took her her place at the podium to give her policy address, the protest slogan “five demands, not one less” was digitally projected over the large wall behind her. Several lawmakers stood up and shouted at her. She left the chamber minutes later.

The protests have quickly morphed into the most direct challenge to Communist Party rule in decades. Many people in Hong Kong, a former British colony that is now a semiautonomous territory, perceive Mrs. Lam’s administration as more beholden to the Chinese central government than to the city’s 7.4 million people.
Protesters had gathered outside government offices before the speech to express their frustration and call for Mrs. Lam’s resignation. 

Many said they were interested in political reform, not economic relief, and that they would not rest until the government met their demands.
“She’s just out here to say something shallow to the people,” said Lee Chi-Wa, 56, an electrician. “Hong Kongers have no expectations left for her.”

The legislative chamber where Mrs. Lam briefly stood was itself a reminder of one of the protest movement’s most dramatic escalations.

On July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, demonstrators besieged and smashed their way into the offices, then defaced the room in which Mrs. Lam tried to speak on Wednesday. The protests, which began in June in opposition to a contentious bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, are now in their 19th week.

Clashes between the police and demonstrators have turned increasingly violent in recent days. The shooting of a protester during one such confrontation on China’s National Day this month, and Mrs. Lam’s subsequent use of emergency powers to ban the wearing of face masks at protests, have further fueled the protesters’ anger.

On Sunday, a protester stabbed a police officer in the neck, the authorities said. In a separate incident on the same day, a homemade bomb was detonated, though it did not injure anyone.
The state-run media in China have repeatedly denounced the demonstrators as rioters who are working on behalf of foreign governments to bring about a revolution in China. The country’s leader, Xi Jinping, delivered a harsh warning against separatism on Sunday, though he did not specifically mention Hong Kong.

“Anyone attempting to split any part of China will only be ruined,” Mr. Xi said.

Tensions are likely to rise further ahead of elections in November to choose members of Hong Kong’s district councils. Pro-democracy activists worry that the government may try to disqualify candidates who have taken part in the protests on the grounds that they are separatists.
Victoria Hui, an associate professor who studies Hong Kong politics at the University of Notre Dame, said that it would be difficult for Mrs. Lam to quell the protests by vowing to tackle inequality. She said many residents are skeptical of promises by the government because it allowed Hong Kong’s social and economic problems to fester for years.

“The problems are so intractable,” Ms. Hui said. 

“Even if she can perform a miracle, it will be difficult to gain the trust of the public.”


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