27 January 2020
MTR personnel try to prevent a protester from blocking the door of a train as protesters disrupt MTR services at Fortress Hill station on Monday. Photo: Reuters
MTR personnel try to prevent a protester from blocking the door of a train as protesters disrupt MTR services at Fortress Hill station on Monday. Photo: Reuters

Strike grips Hong Kong, Carrie Lam remains defiant

Hong Kong was plunged into fresh chaos on Monday as a general strike followed another weekend of violent protests, paralyzing transport, leading to more than 200 flight cancellations and bringing the city to an unprecedented standstill.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor addressed the media for the first time in two weeks and warned again that the protests gripping the city are a challenge to China’s sovereignty and pushing it to the verge of an “extremely dangerous situation”.

Embattled Lam remained defiant as she rejected calls from protesters for her to resign and said the government would be resolute in maintaining law and order.

She warned the protests were putting the Asian financial center on a path of no return and had hurt the city’s economy.

“They claim they want a revolution and to restore Hong Kong, these actions have far exceeded their original political demands,” said a stern-faced Lam, who was flanked by senior members of her administration.

“These illegal acts that challenge our country’s sovereignty, and jeopardize ‘one country two systems’, will destroy the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong,” she said.

In her first news conference since July 22, Lam said the protests are “pushing our city, the city we all love and many of us helped to build, to the verge of a very dangerous situation”.

Some protesters accused Lam of again fueling the crisis by ignoring public sentiment, and they pledged to continue with the protests.

“It is totally a waste of time to hear” her speak, said 20-year-old university student Jay Leung.

“I don’t think the government is doing anything to heal society,” he added. “They provide no solution to solve the political problem brought on by themselves. Why doesn’t the government reflect its performance?”

In a statement, the government on Sunday night urged the public “not to take part in any illegal acts such as blocking roads nor interfering with transport facilities which will seriously affect road users”.

The Transport Department’s Emergency Transport Coordination Centre “will continue to closely monitor the road traffic situation and public transport services, and maintain close liaison with the Police, public transport operators and tunnel management operators to coordinate and implement relevant traffic and public transport arrangements as soon as possible when roads or railway services are affected”, according to the statement.

The government urged protesters to “abide by the law and respect the rights of other members of the public” while expressing their demands, noting that the protesters’ acts “have already gone far beyond the limits of peaceful and rational protests”.

MTR service disruptions

MTR Corp. said it would monitor the situation closely and make the deployment of its manpower flexible, adding that hoped protesters would not disrupt the operation of trains.

On Monday morning, service disruptions have been reported on the Tsuen Wan, Kwun Tong, Island, West Rail, East Rail, Tseung Kwan O and Tung Chung lines as protesters prevented train doors from closing. Train services on all the lines have returned to normal as of 2 p.m.

Shortly after 9 a.m., MTR also announced that Airport Express services had been suspended but resumed later in the morning.

The rail operator has arranged numerous bus services to ferry stranded MTR passengers.

Meanwhile, more than 200 departing and arriving flights have been canceled in the morning.

The Airport Authority warned that the planned strike might affect not only airlines but also airport operations, RTHK reported.

The authority advised passengers to check with their airlines for the latest information, and only proceed to the airport when their seats and flight time have been confirmed, the broadcaster reported.

In addition to the city-wide strike, many are expecte to join simultaneous rallies in Admiralty, Mong Kok, Sha Tin, Tai Po, Tuen Mun, Tsuen Wan and Wong Tai Sin.

Organizers said police have issued letters of no objection for rallies in those districts, with the exception of Tsuen Wan.

Many shops have decided not to open for the day.

“[The government is] making police the scapegoat and creating a situation that is becoming unbearable for everyone who lives here. So that’s one of the reasons we have joined the strike,” said Mark Schmidt, 49, who closed his business on Monday.

“Losing a bit of money now is not such a problem [compared] with losing everything that the freedom of Hong Kong used to stand for,” he added.

Economy weakening

In its statement, the government said the city’s economy is suffering from “both external headwinds and local social issues” and the latest economic data, “the worst over the past decade, shows that the economy is weakening and the risk of an economic downturn is increasing”.

IHS Markit’s latest Purchasing Managers’ Index for Hong Kong showed private sector business activity dropped to its lowest level in a decade, weighed down by the protests and the Sino-US trade war.

New orders also contracted the most since March 2009, the data showed.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said on Monday the city’s economy was facing large downward pressure.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index fell 3 percent, outpacing losses in other Asian markets.

Tourism numbers are already falling and hotel occupancy rates are slumping as the protests take a toll, adding pressure to Hong Kong’s already struggling economy.

“I know the whole thing and I support the resistance very much. But this is not the way to win friends and influence people. It is [hurting] innocent bystanders,” said Canadian retiree Edward Tunis, 66.

44 arrested overnight

The government also urged civil servants “to stay united amidst all the pressure and challenges”.

“The effective operation of the government and provision of public services must not be affected by any personal beliefs in order to avoid undermining public confidence in the impartial discharge of duties by civil servants,” the statement said.

Police arrested 44 people after sometimes violent clashes overnight when police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators who moved swiftly across the city in flash mob-style actions.

Demonstrators besieged police stations across the city over the weekend, spray-painting walls with graffiti and breaking windows. Some set fire to a trolley of rubbish bins and wooden planks and pushed it towards a police cordon line.

Police said in a statement the violence was escalating rapidly and the situation was spiraling out of control.

The government has so far refused to accede to any of the protesters’ main demands, which include a complete withdrawal of the extradition bill and an independent inquiry into government handling of the snowballing crisis. With a Reuters report

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Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks at a news conference on Monday morning. Lam rejected calls from protesters for her to resign and said the government would be resolute in maintaining law and order. Photo: Reuters

Protesters use barricades to block the road at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel on Monday. Photo: Reuters