Violent protests have pushed Hong Kong into “a state of panic and chaos”, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday, warning that recovery will take a long time.
“Hong Kong, as an open, free, very tolerant, economically stable city will see severe wounds … The recovery may take a long time,” Lam told reporters, according to Reuters.
“I ask everybody to put aside the differences and calm down, take a minute to look at our city, our home. Can we bear to push it into the abyss and see it smashed to pieces?” Lam said.
Speaking ahead of a meeting of the Executive Council, Lam said she will focus on the task of rebuilding the economy “after the violence eases”.
As she spoke to reporters, her voice cracking with emotion at one point, Lam faced questions over the police tactics on protesters.
When asked whether the police had used excessive violence against protesters on Sunday, when officers were accused of firing pepper balls at demonstrators at close range at Tai Koo MTR station and lobbing tear gas into Kwai Fong station, Lam defended the use of such tactics.
“The police have had a very difficult time in the last two months to enforce the law and to ensure law and order in Hong Kong… Policemen have to make on-the-spot judgment of what will be in the best interest and safety of people around during a particular situation,” Lam said, according to RTHK.
“The police have their code of practice to follow. They have very rigid and stringent guidelines in the use of appropriate force,” she said.
Lam said the priority for Hong Kong right now is to put an end to the violence, and restore law and order in the city.
Once that is achieved, dialogue and rebuilding of harmony in society can begin, she said.
“The Chief Executive’s responsibility is to ensure that Hong Kong remains a safe and orderly and law-abiding city. That is my utmost responsibility,” RTHK quoted her as saying.
When asked if she’s still capable of leading Hong Kong and whether she has the autonomy to withdraw the now-suspended extradition bill, as demanded by protesters, Lam said she still has the trust of Beijing.
The central government “is still confident” that Hong Kong’s current leadership can resolve the crisis, Lam said.
Among other topics, Lam once again brushed aside calls to set up an independent inquiry into the recent events, saying the existing mechanism to resolve complaints related to the police is good enough.
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