Asia Pacific

Hong Kong protesters clash with police as Carrie Lam visits Beijing

Bloomberg

Hong Kong’s demonstrators clashed with police late Sunday as Chief Executive Carrie Lam visited Beijing, where she’s expected to update Chinese President Xi Jinping and other senior officials on the violent protests that have gripped the city for the past six months.

Roads in Mong Kok, a tourist area known for its night market, were blocked with bricks as protesters threw glass bottles and other items at police officers at about 11 p.m. Sunday. Police sprayed tear gas to disperse the crowds, according to a statement from the city’s government.

A traffic light was smashed and dismantled as protesters set boxes on fire to block more roads at about 1:30 a.m. Monday. Riot police responded through a loudspeaker that it was their “final warning.”

The clash late Sunday followed a more subdued weekend for the city’s demonstrations. Protests have raged in Asia’s premier financial hub since June, when large crowds took to the streets to oppose a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

Although Lam’s government eventually withdrew the proposed law, the protesters’ demands have broadened to include universal suffrage and the creation of an independent inquiry into police conduct during the increasingly violent unrest.

The visit by Lam, whose administration has been criticized for its handling of the unrest, comes after an estimated 800,000 people took to the streets in a demonstration last week. It also follows a landslide victory by opposition pro-democracy parties over her pro-establishment allies in local elections.

“The purpose of the duty visit is to give a full account of what has happened in Hong Kong over the past year,” Lam said in a press briefing last week. “Particularly what has happened in Hong Kong in the last six months.”

Throughout the chaos, China has steadfastly supported Lam, even as her popularity in the former British colony sunk to record lows. Chinese officials have condemned the protesters and voiced their backing for the city’s police.

The clashes have taken a toll on Hong Kong’s economy, which is expected to enter its first annual recession in a decade.

Tourists have stayed away in droves. Arrivals from mainland China were down 35 percent in September compared with the same month of 2018, and the hotel occupancy rate averaged 63 percent. Hong Kong International Airport handled 5 million passengers in November, down 16 percent from a year earlier, the Hong Kong Airport Authority said in a statement.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan wrote in his weekly blog that foreign investors may choose centers other than Hong Kong if unrest continues in the city, broadcaster RTHK reported.

Adam Kwok, executive director of Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd., one of the city’s biggest developers, called on the government to help the hospitality sector. Hotel revenue for the company had fallen by as much as 40 percent in November and December due to the unrest, he said. This half, hotel revenue is forecast to be down around 30 percent.

“We strongly urge the government to help the hotel industry,” Kwok said in a rare public address for a new hotel Friday. “We really need it.”

The clash in Mong Kok late Sunday followed a gathering of several hundred in Edinburgh Place in central Hong Kong earlier in the evening, calling for a strike by social workers in support of the protests. In the New Territories town of Shatin, police said they had taken “enforcement actions” after scuffles with protesters in a mall broke out earlier in the day. Demonstrators threw a smoke bomb and blocked entrances of the shopping center, security forces said in a statement.

Masked demonstrators also clashed earlier with bystanders who were trying to prevent them from drawing graffiti on walls and windows of a mall in the New Territories town of Shatin. Riot police moved into the shopping center to disperse the groups of protesters.

Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of people also gathered in Tamar Park in Hong Kong’s city center for a rally in support of the government. People waved China flags and chanted “say no to violence” as speakers called for an end to anti-Beijing protests.

On Saturday, police arrested three people suspected of making an explosive device in Tuen Mun, the force said in a statement on its Facebook page. On Monday, security services defused what they described as two homemade bombs in Wanchai.

Earlier in the day, police also arrested five people between the ages of 15 and 18 in connection with the death of a 70-year-old man who was hit by a brick near the site of a protest in Sheung Shui last month, according to a government press release.

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