World

Hong Kong leader refuses to give ground after pro-democracy bloc wins by landslide

Hong Kong's embattled leader Carrie Lam refused to offer any concessions to anti-government protesters despite a landslide election victory by opponents of Chinese rule amid months of sometimes violent pro-democracy unrest.

Pro-democracy camp more than quadrupled its district council seats in Sunday's vote

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said she hoped the peaceful weekend was not just for the elections but a signal that people in the Chinese-ruled city wanted an end to violence. (Marko Djurica/Reuters)

Latest

  • Pro-democracy candidates secured almost 90% of 452 district council seats
  • Beijing says it 'firmly supports' Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam's leadership
  • Record turnout of 71% almost doubled that of previous polls 4 years ago

Hong Kong's embattled leader Carrie Lam has refused to offer any concessions to anti-government protesters despite a local election setback.

Lam said she will accelerate dialogue and plans to set up a committee to review deep-seated social issues that contributed to grievances.

At her weekly news conference Tuesday, she said the central government in Beijing didn't blame her for the poll outcome, in which the pro-democracy bloc won a landslide victory with almost 90 per cent of 452 district council seats.

She said Sunday's election may have reflected unhappiness with the government, but it also showed that many people want a stop to violence.

The elections brought a record turnout after six months of protests and upset wins for democrats against heavyweight pro-Beijing opponents, greeted in some voting centres by chants of "Liberate Hong Kong" and "Revolution Now."

Watch: Hong Kong pro-democracy activist sees clear message in historic win 

Democratic Party member Lee Wing-tat says government must now accept voters' demands 0:52

District councils deal with local issues such as transport, but their members also form part of the election committee for Hong Kong's chief executive. This could give them some influence over the next vote in 2022, although they account for only 117 of its 1,200 members.

Democratic Party chair Wu Chi-wai described the election as the first step on the way to full democracy. "This district election shows that the central government needs to face the demands of a democratic system," he said.

This is the power of democracy. This is a democratic tsunami.- Tommy Cheung, ex-student protest leader

Along with universal suffrage, the protesters' demands include an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality.

The voting ended with no major disruptions across the city of 7.4 million people.

"This is the power of democracy. This is a democratic tsunami," said Tommy Cheung, a former student protest leader who won a seat in the Yuen Long district close to China's border.

'Major defeat'

Asked whether the chief executive should consider her position in light of the election results, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said Beijing "firmly supports" Lam's leadership. Hong Kong's most urgent task was to restore order and stop the violence, Geng told a daily briefing.

In self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own, the presidential office expressed "great admiration" for the election result, which it said demonstrated Hong Kong's will to pursue freedom and democracy.

In Washington, a senior official with U.S. President Donald Trump's administration said the United States congratulates Hong Kong "for conducting and participating in free, fair and peaceful" elections.

"The American people support all those who cherish liberty and democracy," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Candidates from Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, a pro-Beijing political party, bow to apologize for their defeat in the local district council election Monday. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

The number of seats held by the pro-democracy camp more than quadrupled and turnout — at 71 per cent — was almost double the number in the previous polls four years ago.

Starry Lee — chair of the city's largest pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong — apologized for her party's performance.

"For this major defeat, we do not want to find any excuses and reasons," said Lee. She said the party rejected her offer to resign earlier Monday.

University standoff

Former student leader Lester Shum, who won a seat, said district councils were just one path to democracy. "In future, we must find other paths of struggle to keep fighting," he said.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency announced the completion of the election, but did not say which side had won.

Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering and says it is committed to the "one country, two systems" formula put in place at that time. Police say they have shown restraint in the face of potentially deadly attacks.

Britain said it welcomed Lam's promise to "seriously reflect" on the result.

Jimmy Sham, a leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized some of the anti-government rallies, won his electoral contest, while some pro-Beijing heavyweights lost.

Pro-democratic winning candidates gather outside the campus of the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Monday. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Sham and other democrats entered the Polytechnic University to urge police to end a standoff and allow humanitarian assistance to the few protesters trapped inside, with fears rising about their physical and emotional health. They left after meeting two protesters whom they were unable to convince to leave.

The university is surrounded by riot police, after about 1,100 were arrested last week, some while trying to escape. There was a small standoff between police and protesters outside the campus Monday evening, with many shouting "come out" and hurling abuse at police.

The protests started over a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial but rapidly evolved into calls for full democracy, posing the biggest populist challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

With files from The Associated Press

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