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Hong Kong's Lam acknowledges discontent with government

  • Published at 10:49 pm November 26th, 2019
People gather in support of pro-democracy protesters in the Kowloon Bay area in Hong Kong on November 26, 2019 AFP

A day earlier, the foreign ministry summoned US Ambassador Terry Branstad to protest the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam acknowledged on Tuesday that the record turnout in local elections won by pro-democracy candidates highlighted dissatisfaction with her administration, while appealing for an end to violent protests.

Appearing tired and drawn, Lam spoke a day after results showed democratic candidates secured almost 90% of 452 district council seats in Sunday's elections, a landslide victory in polls that were widely seen as a barometer of the opposition to the Beijing-backed politician following months of unrest.

China, which has blamed foreign forces for fomenting unrest in the city, has not directly commented on the results, and major news outlets among China's tightly controlled media largely avoided detailed reporting of how Hong Kongers voted.

On Tuesday, top diplomat Yang Jiechi condemned the passing of US legislation supporting protesters, saying China had "expressed our severe position the American side," according to state news agency Xinhua.

A day earlier, the foreign ministry summoned US Ambassador Terry Branstad to protest the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which it said amounted to interference in an internal Chinese matter.

Lam, Hong Kong's most unpopular post-colonial leader, acknowledged voters in the city wanted to express their views on many issues, including "deficiencies in governance."

Speaking in measured tones, she thanked residents for voting peacefully and hoped the calm weekend was not just for the elections but a signal that residents want an end to unrest that has rocked the Chinese-ruled city for six months.

"Everybody wants to go back to their normal life and this requires the concerted efforts of every one of us," Lam said during her weekly address at the government's headquarters.

"So, as I have said repeatedly, resorting to violence will not give us that way forward. So please, please help us to maintain the relative calm and peace and provide a good basis for Hong Kong to move forward."

University standoff

While calm has descended across most of the city, a small group of protesters remain holed up in Polytechnic University, surrounded by police following extreme clashes at the campus on Kowloon peninsula in the run-up to elections.

In her speech Lam urged them to leave peacefully as soon as possible.

On Tuesday, university staff combed the sprawling campus looking for holdouts, finding one female protester, Professor Ping-kong Alexander Wai told reporters.

The Cross-Harbor Tunnel, a major artery linking Hong Kong island to the Kowloon peninsula which closed after protesters occupied the campus nearby, will re-open at 5.am on Wednesday (2100 GMT), chief secretary Matthew Cheung said.

Government staff and contractors spent days cleaning the area, which he said was left looking like a "war-zone", with fire hydrants and toll booths destroyed.

The anti-government demonstrations bolstered support for democrats in Sunday's elections, with a record three million people casting their vote.

The pro-democracy parties overwhelming victory poses a conundrum for Beijing and piles pressure on Lam, who is facing renewed calls to step down. The democrats took control of 17 out of 18 district councils.

Some observers say Lam, who came to power in 2017 on a platform to heal social divisions, is out of touch with the population and won't say anything concrete unless Beijing gives her the green light.

"There's no content in her talk, which is usual," said Ma Ngok, political scientist at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"The majority of the people still support the (pro-democracy) movement so it is up to them (Beijing) to respond. If they don't respond with any kind of concessions, I think the protests would go on for some time."