Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the violent protests by extradition bill opponents on Wednesday outside the Legislative Council complex were disturbing and condemnable.
Accusing the demonstrators of staging an “organized riot”, Lam said in a video address to the public Wednesday evening that acts that undermine social peace and law and order cannot be tolerated.
“These acts of rioting, which damage social peace and disregard the law, are intolerable in any civilized society that respects the rule of law,” Lam said in Cantonese in a two-mintue-and-45-second televised address.
What Hong Kong saw was not a peaceful assembly “but a blatant and organized riot,” she said, adding that the demonstrations were “in no way an act of loving Hong Kong.”
On Wednesday, as lawmakers were due to begin the second reading debate on the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 at 11 am, many citizens, mostly young people, gathered in front of the Legislature complex to protest the government’s controversial push for a law that would enable extraditions to mainland China.
Amid a standoff, some protesters clashed with the police in the afternoon, prompting authorities to fire tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.
As of Thursday morning, 79 people were injured in the clashes. The police strongly condemned the violent acts and have urged the public to stay away from the Admiralty area.
Lam said in her address that “some people repeatedly charged towards the police cordon line and carried out dangerous and even life-threatening acts, including setting fire, using sharpened iron poles and bricks to attack the police and damaging nearby public facilities, thereby posing serious threats to the safety of the general public, the young people who intended to express their views peacefully, the reporters, police officers and civil servants.”
“We must strongly condemn them,” the chief executive said.
Lam said that while she acknowledges that the proposed law changes have “drawn strong positive and negative opinions in society”, the issue is being used by some people to stir up trouble.
Ever since Hong Kong’s return to China, we have seen issues involving the central government and the Hong Kong government being “used by some people to stir up controversies and disputes,” she said.
“Intense confrontation is surely not the solution to ease disputes and resolve controversies,” Lam said, adding that “there is a bottom line in regard to the means of expressing an opinion, be it a supporting or opposing view.”
“If a goal can be reached by radical and violent means, such scenes will become more severe, which will definitely put Hong Kong in harm’s way,” Lam said, adding that she hopes “society will return to order as soon as possible.”
A few hours before Lam gave her speech, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung called on protesters who occupied the streets to keep their heads cool, exercise restraint, leave the roads and return to the pavements.
Dismissing the public’s worries over the extradition law implications, Chueng promised that the government will carry out stringently its gate-keeping duties after the bill is passed.
Earlier on Wednesday, Lam showed her sentimental side during an interview with local broadcaster TVB, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Asked to respond to accusations that she was “selling out” Hong Kong by pushing forward with the extradition bill, Lam got teary-eyed as she rejected the charges, insisting that she has great love for city as she was born and raised here.
Noting that her love for Hong Kong has prompted her to make a lot of personal sacrifices with little rest since she took office in 2017, Lam said her husband had once remarked to her, after she took the chief executive job, that she has “sold herself to Hong Kong”.
Talking about the extradition bill, Lam admitted it is controversial and that she could have done more to explain the matter to the public.
But she stressed she has never had a guilty conscience as she firmly believes that it is a right move to amend the law.
Asked to comment on the fresh wave of 2014 Occupy-type street occupations that Hong Kong is witnessing, Lam said the scenes are heartbreaking and make her worried.
On Thursday morning, legislators were informed through a circular that Legco President Andrew Leung Kwan-yan had decided that the extradition bill debate was being put off.
Lawmakers will be notified of a fresh date “once it is determined by” Leung, the note said.
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