Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam was forced to suspend her annual policy address on Wednesday after pro-democracy lawmakers disrupted the start of her speech, chanting slogans and calling for her resignation.
Ms Lam was expected to announce measures focused on the property market and other economic sweeteners in her big yearly speech, in the latest bid to resolve more than four months of protests that have roiled the Chinese territory. She was forced instead to deliver the address by video.
Pro-democracy lawmakers held posters depicting Ms Lam with blood on her hands and chanted the protest slogan “five demands, not one less” as she entered the chamber. Once inside, the legislators disrupted proceedings by heckling and projecting the slogan on to a wall. Two lawmakers wore masks featuring the face of Xi Jinping, China’s president.
“Today we used a projector to project the demands of the people on her body, on her face,” said Tanya Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker. Ms Chan used a speaker to broadcast to the chamber sounds of screams and exploding tear gas canisters recorded during the protests.
The suspension of the legislative session came just hours after the US House of Representatives on Tuesday voiced strong backing for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The House passed an act requiring the US to assess annually whether the territory still qualified for preferential trade status from Washington.
The House decision on the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act marks the latest effort from the US to put pressure on the Hong Kong government, which has failed to suppress protests that have roiled the territory since June.
Ms Lam has struggled to resolve the crisis, which was sparked by the introduction of an extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for the first time. The demonstrations — which started with largely peaceful rallies but have descended into increasingly violent clashes between protesters and police — have since expanded to include calls for an independent inquiry into the use of force by police and the right to elect the city’s leader.
The chief executive has said she would withdraw the bill and also sought to focus on economic concerns. Authorities have maintained that housing costs and economic inequality have been an important factor behind the protests, even as many demonstrators have insisted that concerns over democratic rights are the main drivers of the movement.
Ms Lam focused on housing policies in her video address, saying the government would ease mortgage caps for first-time buyers. She added the government would exercise its right to take back private land for public housing from the city’s big developers, which hold large land banks.
The contentious extradition bill was set to be withdrawn formally at the council meeting on Wednesday but will now be held until the session resumes.
Ms Lam is Hong Kong’s most unpopular leader since the handover of the territory from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, according to a survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute.
Hong Kong’s economy has been battered by the combined effects of the US-China trade war and the violent street battles, which have scared away tourists and shoppers. Retail sales dropped by almost a quarter in August in the largest fall on record and visitor numbers fell 40 per cent.
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