HONG KONG: Hong Kong's embattled leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday (Oct 8) her administration had no plans to use colonial-era emergency powers to introduce new laws, after a long weekend of violent protests in defiance of a controversial ban on face masks.
Lam added that the city is equipped to handle the current situation on its own, although she would not rule out accepting help from mainland China in tackling increasingly violent protests.
"At this point in time, I still strongly feel that we should find the solutions ourselves. It is also the position of the central government (in Beijing) that Hong Kong should tackle the problem on her own," she said at a weekly news conference.
"But if the situation becomes so bad, then no options can be ruled out if we want Hong Kong to at least have another chance."
Lam's decision last Friday to invoke colonial-era emergency powers - not used for half a century - to impose the ban sparked some of the most violent scenes since the crisis began, as hardcore protesters trashed dozens of subway stations, vandalised shops with mainland China ties, built fires and blocked roads.
As much of the city returned to work after a three-day weekend, Lam told reporters that it was "too early" to say whether the anti-mask law was effective or not.
"I'm sure you'll agree that for any new policy or new legislation, it will take time to be effectively implemented," she said, adding that there would be problems with the legislation if people refused to abide by the law.
"Please allow me to reiterate that if we are so proud of Hong Kong being a city that upholds and safeguards the rule of law, one important component of the rule of law is the law-abiding population," she said.
"We need the people of Hong Kong to respect the law. So if a piece of legislation has been enacted but people refuse to abide by the law then of course we'll have a problem at hand, but I would appeal to the common sense and rationality of the Hong Kong people that this is a time to observe the law."
The anti-mask law is also applicable in schools and universities, with the Education Bureau asking secondary schools to inform how many students wear masks to school on Tuesday, the first day of classes since the ban was implemented.
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Lam also would not be drawn on a suggestion by one of her Cabinet members, the veteran pro-Beijing politician Ip Kwok-him, that Hong Kong may curb access to the Internet in a bid to contain the protests.
The leader insisted she was "very committed" to using political, legal and policy instruments, including dialogue, to address some of the "deep-seated problems" in the city.
Thirteen of the city's subway stations remained closed on Tuesday following the widespread vandalism as damaged facilities needed to be repaired. The operator said the entire network would close at 8pm, more than four hours earlier than normal.
According to Hospital Authority figures, 10 of the 13 people admitted to hospital over the weekend were in a stable condition on Tuesday, while three had been discharged.
At her weekly news conference, Lam said tourist numbers had fallen sharply and the impact on the city's third quarter economic data of the protests, which have been going on for about four months, would "surely be very bad".
She appealed to property developers and landlords to offer relief to retailers whose businesses had been hit.
"For the first six days of October, during the so-called Golden Week holiday, visitors visiting Hong Kong plunged over 50 per cent," she said. Retail, catering, tourism and hotels had been severely hit, with some 600,000 people affected, she added.
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ATMs, Chinese banks and scores of shops were vandalised during protests over the long weekend. Many restaurants and malls closed early over what is typically a very busy holiday period.
On Sunday, personnel inside a People's Liberation Army barracks in the territory issued warnings to protesters who had shined laser pointers at the building. It was the first time the Chinese military had engaged with the demonstrators.
Lam, who has said she must serve both the central government and the people of Hong Kong, was in Beijing last week for Oct 1 National Day celebrations but said she did not meet any central government officials to discuss "business".
Asked under what circumstances she would call upon Beijing for help to quell the protests, Lam said on Tuesday: "I cannot tell you categorically now under what circumstances we will do extra things, including ... calling on the central government to help."
She is due to give a policy address next week, but said it would not be the "usual comprehensive" address due to her team's preoccupation with the situation.
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