HONG KONG: Violent protests are driving Hong Kong down a "path of no return", the city's leader warned on Tuesday (Aug 13) as its airport struggled to recover from an unprecedented shutdown triggered by a rally and authorities in Beijing sent more ominous signals that the unrest must end.
"Violence, no matter if it's using violence or condoning violence, will push Hong Kong down a path of no return, will plunge Hong Kong society into a very worrying and dangerous situation," Lam said during a press conference.
"The situation in Hong Kong in the past week has made me very worried that we have reached this dangerous situation," she added.
READ: Hong Kong airport reopens after protests, but hundreds of flights cancelled, more protests planned
As she spoke to reporters, her voice cracking with emotion at one point, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell by more than 1 per cent to its lowest level since Jan 4. The index was down around 1.5 per cent soon after.
She said violence by protesters had pushed Hong Kong into "a state of panic and chaos".
"Hong Kong, as an open, free, very tolerant, economically stable city will see severe wounds ... The recovery may take a long time," she said.
The Beijing-backed leader faced combative questioning from reporters who repeatedly interrupted her as she defended the conduct of the city's police after a weekend of often violent confrontations between them and protesters.
She said police faced "extremely difficult circumstances" and were bound by "rigid and stringent guidelines on the appropriate use of force".
Lam also dodged a question on whether she had the power to end the crisis by granting one of the key demands of the protesters: To fully withdraw a now-suspended Bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China.
Pressed on whether her hands were tied by Beijing on the issue, she demurred, insisting the question had been answered in the past.
"I again ask everyone to put aside your differences and calm down.
"Take a minute to think, look at our city, our home – do you all really want to see it pushed into an abyss?" Lam added, appearing on the verge of tears.
Her comments come after China said the anti-government protests that have swept the city over the past two months had begun to show "signs of terrorism".
Over the weekend, as demonstrators threw up barricades across the city, police shot volleys of tear gas into crowded underground train stations for the first time, and fired bean-bag rounds at close range.
Protesters responded by hurling bricks and spraying riot police with fire extinguishers and water hoses.
Officials said 45 people were hurt in the clashes.
On Monday, all flights in and out of Hong Kong were cancelled after thousands of protesters flooded the city's airport to denounce police violence. More protests are planned at the airport on Tuesday.
READ: Scoot flight from Singapore to Hong Kong forced to turn back; SIA flight diverted due to airport protests
"Hong Kong's radical demonstrators have repeatedly used extremely dangerous tools to attack police officers, which already constitutes a serious violent crime, and also shows the first signs of terrorism emerging," said Yang Guang, spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council.
"This wantonly tramples on Hong Kong's rule of law and social order."
Hours later, two state media outlets ran videos showing armoured personnel and troop carriers purportedly driving to Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong.
China's state-run media on Tuesday sought to ramp up the pressure.
"Black-clad mobsters have created an atmosphere of terror on the Hong Kong streets," the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary.