(Bloomberg) — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reiterated Beijing’s “firm support” for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, as another weekend of protests signaled that the Asian financial hub would continue to face unrest in the new year.
Li recognized Lam’s efforts to stimulate the battered Hong Kong economy in briefly televised remarks Monday in Beijing as he hosted Lam for her annual duty visit to the capital. He urged Hong Kong’s government to continue to curb violence and to study the “deep-rooted economic and social problems” and “unprecedented complexity” it faces after more than six months of often violent demonstrations.
Lam was expected to meet with President Xi Jinping later in the day, Radio Television Hong Kong reported. Vice Premier Han Zheng, Liaison Office Director Wang Zhimin and Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Director Zhang Xiaoming were among the senior officials who also met with Lam Monday.
The visit by Lam, whose public approval rating has falling to historic lows over her handling of the unrest, comes after an estimated 800,000 people took to the streets in a demonstration last week. It also follows a landslide victory by opposition pro-democracy parties over her pro-establishment allies in local elections.
On Sunday night, Hong Kong protesters blocked roads in Mong Kok — a commerical area known for its night market — and threw glass bottles and other items at police. Police sprayed tear gas to disperse the crowds, according to a statement from the city’s government.
The clashes followed a more subdued weekend of demonstrations in the city. Hong Kong launched an ad campaign in overseas newspapers Monday, aiming to reassure travelers and global investors that the Asian financial hub remains free and stable after months of violent clashes between demonstrators and police.
Protests have raged in Asia’s premier financial hub since June, when large crowds took to the streets to oppose a bill that would’ve allowed extraditions to mainland China. Although Lam eventually withdrew the proposed law, the protesters’ demands have broadened to include universal suffrage and the creation of an independent inquiry into police conduct during the increasingly violent unrest.
“The purpose of the duty visit is to give a full account of what has happened in Hong Kong over the past year,” Lam said in a press briefing last week, adding that “what has happened in Hong Kong in the last six months” would be the focus.
Throughout the chaos, China has steadfastly supported Lam and condemned violent protesters while resisting calls for greater democracy. The clashes have taken a toll on Hong Kong’s economy, which is expected to enter its first annual recession in a decade.
The clash in Mong Kok late Sunday followed an earlier gathering of several hundred people in Edinburgh Place in central Hong Kong, calling for a strike by social workers. In the New Territories area of Sha Tin, police said they had taken “enforcement actions” after scuffles with protesters in a mall broke out earlier in the day.
Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of people also gathered in Tamar Park in the city center for a rally in support of the government. People waved China flags and chanted “say no to violence” as speakers called for an end to anti-Beijing protests.
On Saturday, police arrested five people between the ages of 15 and 18 in connection with the death of a 70-year-old man who was hit by a brick near the site of a protest in Sheung Shui last month, according to a government press release.
Police also arrested three people suspected of making an explosive device in Tuen Mun, the agency said in a statement on its Facebook page. Last week, security services defused what they described as two homemade bombs in Wan Chai.
–With assistance from Jinshan Hong, Iain Marlow, Stephen Tan and Linus Chua.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at [email protected], Karen Leigh
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