Embattled Hong Kong leader flees legislature amid protests

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, center right, arrives at chamber of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, center right, arrives at chamber of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
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Calling her “the mother of the mafia police” and yelling comments, pro-democracy MPs twice forced Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to stop delivering a policy speech yesterday and then clamoured for her resignation in chaotic scenes that caused her to walk out of the legislature.

Ms Lam was able to deliver the annual address more than an hour later by video, but the hostile reception inside the Legislative Council chamber marked a slap in the face for the embattled chief executive grappling with anti-government protests which are now in their fifth month.

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When Ms Lam started delivering the speech, she was shouted down by chanting pro-democracy MPs who held aloft placards showing her waving with hands coloured blood-red. They also used a projector to light up Ms Lam’s face and the wall behind her with protesters’ key demands.

Ms Lam left the chamber and came back about 20 minutes later to try again, only to be met with further fury. One legislator brandishing a placard climbed on to a desk.

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Again, the council president stopped the session and Ms Lam left the chamber. One MP wearing a paper mask showing the face of Chinese president Xi Jinping tossed a placard as Ms Lam walked out.

Finally, 75 minutes after the previously scheduled start of the lengthy address, Ms 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 territory as going through “major crisis”, she said: “People are asking: Will Hong Kong return to ­normal?”

She appealed for the territory’s 7.5 million citizens to “cherish the city”, warning that “continued violence and spread of hatred will erode the core values of Hong Kong”.

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 details such as building new tunnels and freeing up land for development, the 50-minute speech – entitled “Treasure Hong Kong our home” – only fueled criticism that Ms Lam is tone-deaf to protesters’ concerns about the future of the territory’s freedoms, which are a legacy of its rule by Great Britain and unique in China.

In a subsequent news conference, Ms Lam again made clear that she wouldn’t resign and insisted there has been no erosion “whatsoever” of Hong Kong’s freedoms.

“Hong Kong is still a very free society,” she said.

Even before Ms Lam delivered her speech, one of the protesting MPs, Claudia Mo, dismissed it 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,” Ms Mo said at an impromptu news conference with other MPs outside the chamber after they thwarted Ms Lam’s address. The group played a recording on a small loudspeaker they said was the sound of police tear-gassing protesters, and of protesters’ sounds of pain.

“These are the voices of people screaming and they are just ordinary Hong Kong people,” said MP Tanya Chan. “Please, please, please Mrs. Carrie Lam, don’t let us suffer any more.”