China reaffirms support for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam
Protesters have called for the HK chief executive to resign
HONG KONG China doubled down on its support for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam yesterday after days of protests over a planned extradition bill.
Mrs Lam's attempts to pass a bill that would allow people in Hong Kong to be extradited to China to stand trial triggered the biggest and most violent protests in decades.
As the political crisis entered its second week, demonstrators and opposition politicians gathered near the government's offices, calling for the bill to be withdrawn and for her to step down.
Hong Kong has been governed under a "one country, two systems" formula since its return to Beijing in 1997, allowing freedoms not granted to the mainland, including an independent judiciary, but short of a fully democratic vote.
Many residents are increasingly unnerved by Beijing's tightening grip and what they see as the erosion of those freedoms, fearing that changes to the rule of law could imperil its status as a global financial centre.
"The Chinese government, the central government, has always fully affirmed the work of chief executive Carrie Lam and the Hong Kong government," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a news conference.
Protest organisers said almost two million people turned out on Sunday to demand that Mrs Lam resign, in what is becoming the biggest challenge to China's relationship with Hong Kong since 1997.
The mass rally, which police said drew 338,000 participants at its peak, forced Mrs Lam to apologise over her plans to push through the bill.
Yesterday, protesters near the government's offices blocked roads and called for Mrs Lam to withdraw the bill, release arrested students, drop the official description of a rally on Wednesday that involved clashes with the police as a riot, and step down.
A senior Hong Kong official close to Mrs Lam said yesterday that Beijing was not likely to let her step down, even if she wanted to, saying "it would create more problems than it solves, at all sorts of levels".
Mrs Lam stopped short of explicitly killing the bill, but the official said the postponement meant that it was effectively dead.
The bill would cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or travelling through the city.