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Hong Kong leader warns protesters not to push city into ‘abyss’


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Media captionCarrie Lam is asked: “Do you have the autonomy or not to withdraw the extradition bill?”

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has warned anti-government protesters not to push the city into an “abyss”, in an emotional press conference on Tuesday.

Ms Lam said Hong Kong had “reached [a] dangerous situation” and that violence during protests would push it “down a path of no return”.

She was met with hostility as she dodged questions by reporters, who repeatedly shouted and cut her off.

Mass unrest has rocked the city for 10 weeks and shows no signs of abating.

The protests began in response to a proposed extradition bill, which has now been suspended.

They have evolved into a more demanding pro-democracy movement, fuelled by fear that the freedoms Hong Kong enjoys as a special administrative region of China are being eroded.

Ms Lam’s comments came a day after thousands occupied the city’s international airport, forcing hundreds of flights to be cancelled. Dozens more have been cancelled on Tuesday, as protests continue.

What’s happening at the airport?

Authorities said on Tuesday that operations have resumed, but warned flights would still be affected.

Flagship carrier Cathay Pacific said it had cancelled more than 200 inbound and outbound flights, and would run only a limited number for connecting passengers.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Officials say about 5,000 gathered at the airport on Monday

Demonstrators have returned for a fifth consecutive day of protests, with hundreds obstructing departure gates.

Some held signs apologising to passengers for the inconvenience. Others wore bandages and brandished slogans criticising the police’s deepening crackdown on the unrest.

Doctors at Hong Kong’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital have also staged a small sit-in protest opposing police violence, local media report.

What did Carrie Lam tell the media?

Ms Lam appeared close to tears at her Tuesday press conference as she called on Hong Kong residents to put aside their differences.

“Take a minute to think, look at our city, our home – do you all really want to see it pushed into an abyss?” AFP quoted her as saying.

Her comments echoed similar remarks by an official from the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong, who said the city would slide “into a bottomless abyss if the terror atrocities are allowed to continue”.

Local journalists unleashed a barrage of questions in Cantonese and English, many condemning Ms Lam’s response to the unrest.

“You blame your own political misjudgement on others, and refuse to acknowledge your mistakes,” one journalist said, according to AFP.

“When will you accept political responsibility to end citizens’ fear?… When will you be willing to step down? When will you tell the police to stop?” Hong Kong’s public broadcaster, RTHK, reportedly asked.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Protesters have started wearing eye patches, in reference to a woman (not pictured) whose eye was allegedly ruptured during a clash with police

Ms Lam evaded a question on whether she had the autonomy to completely withdraw the extradition bill, a key demand of protesters, saying she had answered it in the past.

She said she was “heartbroken” by reports of serious injuries at last weekend’s protests, but appeared to defend the police from claims they used disproportionate force, saying they were acting under “extremely difficult circumstances”.

Footage captured on Sunday showed police shooting non-lethal ammunition at protesters from close range.

Officers were also seen storming an enclosed railway station before firing tear gas inside and beating people with batons, sparking renewed allegations of brutality.

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Media captionViolence erupts in HK train stations

Ms Lam said police operations could not have been “determined by someone like myself”, saying they had to make “on the spot judgments”.

She added that her role was to “ensure that Hong Kong remains a safe and orderly” city.

“After the violence has been stopped and the chaotic situation subsides… I will be responsible [for] rebuilding Hong Kong’s economy, to listen as attentively as possible to my people’s grievances and try to help Hong Kong to move on,” she said.

The press pack’s frustration boiled over as the city’s leader left the podium.

According to AFP, one journalist demanded, “Do you have a conscience?”

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