Hong Kong’s chief executive forced to halt annual address amid protests
There were calls for Carrie Lam’s resignation amid the crisis in the former British colony.
Furious pro-democracy politicians twice forced Hong Kong’s leader to stop delivering a speech laying out her policy objectives in chaotic scenes in the territory.
Carrie Lam was able to deliver the annual address more than an hour later by video, but the hostile reception inside the Legislative Council marked a slap in the face for the embattled chief executive grappling with anti-government protests now in their fifth month.
When Ms Lam started delivering the 50-minute speech titled “Treasure Hong Kong our home”, she was shouted down by chanting pro-democracy politicians who held aloft placards showing her waving with hands coloured blood-red.
They also used a projector to light up Ms Lam’s face and the wall behind her with protesters’ key demands.
Ms Lam left the chamber and then came back about 20 minutes later to try again, only to be met with further fury.
One legislator brandishing a placard climbed on to a desk.
Again, the council president stopped the session and Ms Lam left.
One politician wearing a paper mask showing the face of Chinese president Xi Jinping tossed a placard as Ms Lam walked out.
Finally, 75 minutes after the previously scheduled start of the lengthy address, Ms Lam delivered it via video link, with China’s yellow-starred red flag to her right and Hong Kong’s flag on her left.
Describing the semi-autonomous Chinese territory as going through “major crisis”, Ms Lam said: “People are asking: Will Hong Kong return to normal?”
She appealed for its 7.5 million citizens to “cherish the city”, warning that “continued violence and spread of hatred will erode the core values of Hong Kong”.
She then launched into a detailed explanation of plans to tackle Hong Kong’s shortage of affordable housing, a long-standing source of discontent, and other welfare issues.
In a subsequent news conference, Ms Lam again made clear that she would not resign and insisted there has been no erosion “whatsoever” of Hong Kong’s freedoms.
“Hong Kong is still a very free society,” she said.
Even before Ms Lam delivered her speech, one of the protesting politicians, Claudia Mo, dismissed it as a “shame and a sham” and said the chief executive had lost all authority.
“She is just a puppet on strings, being played by Beijing,” Ms Mo said at an impromptu news conference with other politicians outside the chamber after they successfully thwarted Ms Lam’s address there.
They played a recording on a small loudspeaker they said was the sound of police tear-gassing protesters and of protesters’ wails.
“These are the voices of people screaming and they are just ordinary Hong Kong people,” said politician Tanya Chan.
“Please, please, please Mrs Carrie Lam, don’t let us suffer any more.”
She and others called for Ms Lam’s resignation. “This is the only way that we can have a good future,” said Ms Chan.
Pro-Beijing legislators condemned the disruption, among them Martin Liao, who called it “totally unforgivable”.
Ms Lam had been bracing for trouble in the chamber as her government battles the protests that started in June over a contested extradition bill and have snowballed into a sustained anti-government, anti-police and anti-China movement.
The widespread use of tear gas by riot-control squads and 2,600 arrests, widely decried as heavy handed, have triggered public disgust with the 30,000-strong police force.
Hardcore black-clad and masked protesters have responded with widespread vandalism of China-linked businesses, rail stations and other targets, and attacked police with petrol bombs and other weapons.
On Wednesday, organisers of some of the giant demonstrations said one of their leading activists had been attacked by assailants with hammers, leaving him with bloody head injuries but conscious.
The Civil Human Rights Front said on its Facebook page that Jimmy Sham was on his way to a meeting when the four or five armed attackers pounced on him in Kowloon.
It suggested the attack was politically motivated, linked to “a spreading political terror in order to threaten and inhibit the legitimate exercise of natural and legal rights”.
Mr Sham has been one of the public faces of the anti-government protest movement.