Calling her “the mother of the mafia police,” yelling pro-democracy lawmakers twice forced Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to stop delivering a speech laying out her policy objectives Wednesday and then clamoured for her resignation in chaotic scenes that caused her to walk out of the legislature.
Lam was able to deliver the annual address more than an hour later by video, but the hostile reception inside the Legislative Council marked a slap in the face for the embattled chief executive grappling with anti-government protests now in their fifth month.
When Lam started delivering the speech, she was shouted down by chanting pro-democracy lawmakers who held aloft placards showing her waving with hands colored blood-red. They also used a projector to light up Lam’s face and the wall behind her with protesters’ key demands.
Lam left the chamber and then came back about 20 minutes later to try again, only to be met with further fury. One legislator brandishing a placard climbed onto a desk. Again, the council president stopped the session and Lam left. One lawmaker wearing a paper mask showing the face of Chinese President Xi Jinping tossed a placard as Lam walked out.
Finally, 75 minutes after the previously scheduled start of the lengthy address, 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,” Lam said: “People are asking: Will Hong Kong return to normal?”
She appealed for its 7.5 million citizens to “cherish the city,” warning that “continued violence and spread of hatred will erode the core values of Hong Kong.”
Standing ramrod-straight, 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 such minutiae as building new tunnels and freeing up land for development, the 50-minute speech titled “Treasure Hong Kong our home” only fueled criticism that Lam is deaf to protesters’ concerns about the future of the territory’s freedoms, unique in China.
In a subsequent news conference, 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 Lam delivered her speech, one of the protesting lawmakers, 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,” Mo said at an impromptu news conference with other lawmakers outside the chamber after they successfully thwarted Lam’s address there.
They played a recording on a small loudspeaker they said was the sound of police tear-gassing protesters and of protesters’ wails.
“These are the voices of people screaming and they are just ordinary Hong Kong people,” said lawmaker Tanya Chan. “Please, please, please Mrs. Carrie Lam, don’t let us suffer any more.”
She and others called for Lam’s resignation. “This is the only way that we can have a good future,” said Chan.
Pro-Beijing legislators condemned the disruption, among them Martin Liao, who called it “totally unforgivable.”
Lam had been bracing for trouble in the chamber as her government battles the protests that started in June over a contested extradition bill and have snowballed into a sustained anti-government, anti-police and anti-China movement.
The widespread use of tear gas by riot-control squads and 2,600 arrests, widely decried as heavy handed, have triggered public disgust with the 30,000-strong police force once considered among Asia’s finest. Hardcore black-clad and masked protesters have responded with widespread vandalism of China-linked businesses, subway stations and other targets, and attacked police with gasoline bombs and other weapons.
This month, two police shootings that injured teenage protesters, the stabbing of a police officer, and the detonation of a small, remote-controlled bomb close to police officers ratcheted up violence to levels unprecedented since the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
Saying rioters are “spreading chaos and fear,” Lam appealed for order and sought to end her address on a positive note. Her Facebook profile was updated before she spoke, with a photo of a smiling Lam against a backdrop of a rainbow over Hong Kong’s harbour.
“We have to put aside differences and stop attacking each other,” she said. “I thoroughly believe that Hong Kong will be able to ride out this storm and move on.”