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Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam on Wednesday delivered her annual policy address by video, after being heckled by pro-democracy lawmakers on the floor of the city’s parliament.
Those lawmakers shouted “five demands, not one less,” referencing the list of requests by protesters, at Lam as she was set to deliver her speech. In those remarks, Lam was expected to formally withdraw the extradition bill that sparked nearly five months of sometimes violent protests in the city. The bill’s retraction meets one of the protester demands.
Lam’s remarks were initially suspended amid disruption. As she was set to begin her address a second time, pro-democracy lawmakers interrupted her and some even threw objects at her. Live feeds of the meeting were cut amid the disorder.
The proceedings were ultimately adjourned as the six democratic lawmakers were escorted out of the room. Lam also left the legislature’s chambers. Outside the chambers, pro-democracy lawmakers held an impromptu press conference and called for Lam to step down.
Pro-democracy lawmakers wearing masks with the image of Chinese President Xi Jinping disrupt proceedings during the annual policy address of Carrie Lam on October 16, 2019.
Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images
Andrew Leung, president of the Legislative Council, asked the lawmakers to leave, citing rule 73 of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law. That section states that any person, including legislators, who interfere with the parliament’s proceedings can be removed from the chambers.
Housing is Hong Kong’s ‘toughest livelihood issue’
According to an official translation of her remarks, Lam said housing is the “toughest livelihood issue” facing the city’s citizens and pledged to make more land available for public housing development. In a video delivery of her policy address, she emphasized that housing issues are essential to social stability and upward mobility.
“Every Hong Kong citizen and his family will no longer have to be troubled by, or preoccupied with, the housing problem, and that they will be able to have their own home in Hong Kong, a city in which we all have a share,” she pledged.
Lam’s focus on land and housing initiatives is seen as a bid to restore confidence in the city’s future after months of anti-government protests that have crippled the city and dampened investor sentiment in the Asian financial hub.
She also reiterated the need for an immediate end to violence and said that the violent clashes have been “spreading chaos” and “seriously disrupting people’s lives” in Hong Kong.
The political uncertainties have seeped through into economic matters as the city slashed its GDP growth outlook and businesses have reported huge slumps. Retail and hospitality industries been hit the hardest. The demonstrations have also snarled the city’s normally efficient underground rail system and airport, unnerving investors.
In August, the government unveiled a HK$19.1 billion package to support the slowing economy, including subsidies for the underprivileged and business enterprises, as well as somewhat higher salary tax rebates.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam leaves her annual policy address due to disruptions by pro-democracy lawmakers in the Legislative Council on October 16, 2019.
Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images
The semi-autonomous city battles to overcome its greatest political turmoil since 1997, when the former British colony was handed over to China. Hong Kong now operates under the “one country, two systems” principle, in which Beijing grants Hong Kong citizens financial and legal independence from the mainland.
At the beginning of her video address, Lam again pledged to adhere to the “one country, two systems” structure. She also said any acts advocating Hong Kong’s independence “will not be tolerated.” She also said it is crucial for Hong Kongers to respect the rule of law which is the cornerstone of its society.
Lam’s comments come after the U.S. House of Representatives took a more aggressive stance toward Beijing on Tuesday, and passed legislation related to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, according to Reuters.
China’s foreign ministry responded on Wednesday, saying that that Beijing resolutely opposed the new measures and urged lawmakers to stop interfering. The Hong Kong government also said it “expressed regret” over the House’s actions.