Chaos as Hong Kong lawmakers thwart leader's annual address
Lawmaker who joined protest calls speech a 'shame and a sham'
In chaotic scenes, furious pro-democracy lawmakers twice forced Hong Kong's leader to stop delivering a speech laying out her policy objectives and clamoured for her to resign after she walked out of the legislature on Wednesday and then delivered the annual address 75 minutes late via television.
Carrie Lam's inability to deliver her policy address inside the Legislative Council marked a slap in the face for the embattled chief executive grappling with anti-government protests now in their fifth month.
When Lam started delivering the speech, she was shouted down by chanting pro-democracy lawmakers who held aloft placards showing her waving with hands coloured blood-red.
She left the chamber and then came back a few minutes later to try again, only to be interrupted one more time. Again, she left. One lawmaker wearing a paper mask showing the face of Chinese President Xi Jinping tossed a placard as Lam was leaving.
Finally, 75 minutes after the previously scheduled start of the lengthy address, Lam delivered it via video link, with China's yellow-starred red flag to her right and Hong Kong's flag on her left.
Describing the semi-autonomous Chinese city as going through "major crisis," Lam said: "People are asking: Will Hong Kong return to normal?"
She appealed for its 7.5 million citizens to "cherish the city," warning that "continued violence and spread of hatred will erode the core values of Hong Kong."
Standing ramrod-straight, she then launched into a dry and detailed explanation of plans to tackle Hong Kong's shortage of affordable housing, a long-standing source of discontent, and other welfare issues. With its focus on such minutiae as building new tunnels and freeing up land for development, the 50-minute speech seemed likely to fuel protesters' criticism that Lam is deaf to their concerns about the future of the territory's freedoms, unique in China.
Lam's speech a 'shame and a sham'
Even before Lam delivered it, one of the protesting lawmakers, Claudia Mo, dismissed the address as a "shame and a sham" and said the chief executive had lost all authority.
"She is just a puppet on strings, being played by Beijing," Mo said at an impromptu news conference with other lawmakers outside the chamber after they successfully thwarted Lam's address there.
They played a recording on a small loudspeaker they said was the sound of police tear-gassing protesters and of protesters' wails.
"These are the voices of people screaming and they are just ordinary Hong Kong people," said lawmaker Tanya Chan. "Please, please, please Mrs. Carrie Lam, don't let us suffer any more."
She and others called for Lam's resignation. "This is the only way that we can have a good future," said Chan.
Lam had been bracing for trouble in the chamber as her government battles the protests that started in June over a contested extradition bill and have snowballed into a sustained anti-government, anti-police and anti-China movement.
U.S. shows support for pro-democracy protesters
Hong Kong's leader is expressing "frustration and disappointment and regret" over steps by U.S. Congress to support pro-democracy protesters in the territory.
Lam said, "This Hong Kong human rights and democracy act is totally unjustified and unwarranted."
She said it "will hurt not only the Hong Kong business. It will hurt American interests in Hong Kong. They have 1,400 companies, 85,000 citizens in Hong Kong."
The House on Tuesday passed three bills, approved on separate voicevotes, aimed at showing U.S. support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, one each that:
- Condemns China's intrusions into Hong Kong's affairs and supports the right of people to protest.
- Requires annual reviews by the U.S. secretary of state of Hong Kong's special economic and trade status, providing a check on Beijing's influence over the territory.
- Ensures U.S. weapons are not being used against protesters by police.