Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday did not rule out asking Beijing for help, as the Asian financial hub struggles to deal with months of often violent anti-government protests that are damaging its economy.
Lam said Beijing wanted Hong Kong to solve its own problems, but under its mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, Hong Kong could ask Beijing for help.
“If the situation becomes so bad, then no options could be ruled out, if we want Hong Kong to at least have another chance,” Lam said at weekly news conference after a long weekend of violence crippled the city.
“But at this moment, I and my team, we are still very committed in making sure we can use our own instruments...to try and restore calm and order in Hong Kong,” she said, adding there were no plans to expand emergency laws introduced on Friday.
“But I would appeal (to) everyone in society to join hands to achieve this objective.”
The protests, which show no sign of abating, pose the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012 and are Hong Kong’s thorniest political crisis since Britain returned it to China in 1997.
Lam said protests were severely damaging Hong Kong’s economy. “Hong Kong’s various sectors will enter a severe winter season,” she said.
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong over the weekend wearing face masks, despite Lam having banned masks under colonial-era emergency laws invoked on Friday. Protesters have been using masks to shield their identities and to protect their faces from police tear gas.
The rallies spiraled into some of the most violent clashes since protests started four months ago, forcing the unprecedented shut down of the city’s metro after many stations were torched and scores of shops and China banks damaged.
ECONOMY FACES ‘SEVERE WINTER’
Sunday night saw the first interaction between protesters and Chinese troops stationed in the territory, which have so far remained in barracks. Protesters targeted a military barracks with laser pointers prompting troops to hoist a banner warning them they could be arrested. Senior ranking People’s Liberation Army officers have said violence will not be tolerated.
Hong Kong police said on Tuesday 77 people had been arrested for violating the anti-mask law. Since Friday, more than 200 shops and public utilities have been damaged in the unrest and police have fired 367 tear gas rounds, said a police spokesman.
What started as opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill has grown into a pro-democracy movement against what is seen as Beijing’s tightening grip on the city, which protesters say undermines a “one country, two systems” formula promised when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule.
China dismisses such accusations, saying foreign governments, including Britain and the United States, have fanned anti-China sentiment.
US President Donald Trump said on Monday that if anything bad happened in Hong Kong it would be bad for the US-China trade talks.
China’s Oct. 1 National Day holiday week is normally a time when Hong Kong is flooded with visitors, but many shops were closed and tourist numbers plummeted, said Lam, warning the city’s third quarter economic data would “surely be very bad”.
“For the first six days of October, during the so-called Golden Week holiday, visitors visiting Hong Kong plunged over 50 per cent,” she said. Retail, catering, tourism and hotels had been hit hard, with some 600,000 people affected, she said.
The territory is facing its first recession in a decade.
Hong Kong’s metro, which carried some 5 million people daily, was only partially operating on Tuesday, scores of shops were closed and a tenth of ATMs were broken due to vandalism.
Lam appealed to property developers and landlords to offer relief to retailers whose businesses had been hit.
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