Hong Kong Leader Defends Police, Dodges Questions and Chokes Up in Press Briefing

Stephen Tan and Natalie Lung

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong’s embattled leader warned that the Asian financial center risked sliding into “an abyss,” in a contentious news conference in which she continued to sidestep key questions about the government’s response to weeks of unrest.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday repeated her defense of the police’s use of tear gas against protesters in residential areas and a train station, saying she wouldn’t question law enforcement tactics. She didn’t answer repeated shouted questions about whether she should step down or formally withdraw the extradition legislation that prompted the sometimes violent protests that have scared away tourists, disrupted commutes and briefly shut down the city’s main airport Monday.

Instead, Lam appeared to choke up when cautioning Hong Kong against the risk of “critical injury.” “I again call on everyone to set aside prejudices, and be calm to look at the city, our home, do we really want to push it into an abyss?” she said.

Lam has offered increasingly dire warnings in her few public appearances, saying last week that “some are trying to ruin Hong Kong and completely destroy the livelihood of seven million citizens.”

Follow the latest on Hong Kong’s unrest

The latest news conference ahead of Lam’s weekly meeting with top advisers illustrated the frustration building on the local government as it struggles to quiet the unrest. Lam has offered no concessions since declaring the extradition bill dead a month ago, while her superiors in Beijing demand an end to the protests before addressing any underlying grievances.

While China guaranteed Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy” after regaining control over the former British colony in 1997, the central government has taken an increasingly hands-on approach in recent weeks. A spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing told a briefing Monday -- the agency’s third in as many weeks -- that the protests showed signs of “terrorism.”

Lam, who was repeatedly interrupted by reporters as she spoke Tuesday, said that it would be her responsibility to rebuild Hong Kong’s economy and address the people’s concerns after the unrest. She said that police continued to use “the lowest level of force” when asked about the use of tear gas.

Reporters continued to shout questions as she left. Someone in the gaggle asked whether she still had a conscience.

To contact the reporters on this story: Stephen Tan in Hong Kong at ztan39@bloomberg.net;Natalie Lung in Hong Kong at flung6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Karen Leigh

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