China 'firmly supports' Hong Kong leader amid crisis, Beijing rep says
Demonstrators call for Carrie Lam's resignation over now-'dead' extradition bill
China's top representative in Hong Kong said Thursday the central government in Beijing maintained its support for Carrie Lam, the city's chief executive who is grappling with Hong Kong's greatest political crisis since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Millions of people have taken to the streets of Hong Kong in the past month in some of the largest and most violent demonstrations in decades to protest against a proposed extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.
Wang Zhimin, director of the Liaison Office of the People's Government in Hong Kong, criticized the violence at some of the protests, including the July 1 break-in and ransacking of the territory's legislature.
"If we indulge crimes and breaches of the law, even whitewash, exonerate or give them support, that would be a blatant challenge to the rule of law in Hong Kong, which will eventually hurt the interest of all the Hong Kong people," he said.
"Hence, the central government firmly supports Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the Special Administrative Region government."
Wang was speaking at a pro-Beijing event in Hong Kong that was carried live on television.
Hong Kong was returned to China from Britain in 1997 as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) with the promise of a high degree of autonomy, although many in the territory say Beijing has tightened its grip in recent years.
Extradition bill 'dead,' Lam says
Many in Hong Kong see the extradition bill as another step in increasing Beijing control over the financial hub.
In the face of the opposition to the bill, Lam suspended it in mid-June and this week said it was "dead." She has declined to formally withdraw it from the legislative process, though, leaving protesters unsatisfied.
In addition to calling for the withdrawal of the bill, demonstrators have asked for Lam to resign, for an inquiry into the use of force by the police at a June 12 protest and for detained and arrested protesters to be set free.
Analysts say that after Lam's handling of the turmoil over the extradition bill, her eventual departure — which will require Beijing's blessing — is only a matter of time.
Wang repeated a Chinese government assertion that "foreign forces" were behind the unrest, and a small number of Hong Kong people were willing to be used to create trouble.
"We should give the SAR government time and room. Everybody should unite and move forward, help each other out, and build Hong Kong, our common home," Wang said.
'For freedom, life can be sacrificed'
Thousands of people in Hong Kong laid sunflowers and white lilies at a memorial site Thursday for a man who fell to his death during protests against the extradition bill.
Marco Leung, 35, fell from construction scaffolding in June after unfurling banners against the now-suspended legislation. More protests are planned for the weekend.
People of all ages attended the outdoor service for Leung at a public playground, where volunteers offered tissues to mourners, and Red Cross workers stood by to provide advice.
Hundreds lined up in intermittent rain to pay respects, with the crowd swelling in the evening as people came from work.
"Life is indeed precious ... but for freedom, life can be sacrificed," Methodist minister Yuen Tin-Yau, one of the event's organizers, said in a speech. "The reason why human beings on Earth are human is to sacrifice themselves for the sake of benevolence, justice, friendship and freedom."
Stress and trauma over the turmoil have created an unprecedented mental health problem that the city is not equipped to deal with, medical professionals say.
Psychologists and social workers also attended the memorial to provide support.
Hong Kong's youth have been at the forefront of the city's biggest and most violent protests in decades, with police firing rubber bullets and tear gas in chaotic scenes.
Organizers read out a statement from Leung's parents that thanked the community and expressed hope Hong Kong would see better days.
"Every brave Hong Konger going to the streets is doing so because they love Hong Kong so much," the message said.
"Young people, please protect yourselves, and keep your body and soul together, then you have a chance to speak out about injustices in society."