November 6, 2019 / 3:06 AM / a month ago

China backs bolder action to counter roots of Hong Kong unrest: official

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Beijing supports bolder action to tackle the roots of unrest that has rocked Hong Kong for months, a senior Chinese official said on Wednesday, just hours after a knife-wielding man attacked a pro-Beijing lawmaker in the Chinese-ruled city.

A student from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology holds up a sign during a forum on fellow injured student Chow in Hong Kong, China, November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Han Zheng, a vice premier, said at a meeting with Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam in Beijing the anti-government protests were damaging the “one country, two systems” formula under which the former British colony has been governed since its handover to China in 1997.

“We firmly support the special administrative region government to adopt more proactive and more effective measures to solve the social problems,” said Han, speaking at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in the Chinese capital.

Han said the social problems included unaffordable housing in the city, which is classified as a “special administrative region” of China.

Lam announced housing and land reforms last month in an effort to regain support in one of the world’s most expensive housing markets. She also defended her administration’s response to the protests, which have included reviving colonial-era emergency laws.

What started as agitation against a now-scrapped extradition bill, which would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial, has widened into calls for full democracy and an end to perceived Chinese meddling.

Beijing denies interfering and blames foreign governments for fuelling the unrest.

Five months of often violent unrest have plunged Hong Kong into its biggest political crisis in decades and pose one of the gravest challenges to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

China’s Communist Party said on Tuesday it would not tolerate any “separatist behavior” after some protesters called for independence. Han said the violence had exceeded the “bottom line” of the rule of law and of morality.

ATTACKS ON CANDIDATES

Han was meeting Lam after a man lunged at lawmaker Junius Ho with a knife on Wednesday, the latest attack on candidates running in the city’s Nov. 24 district council elections.

A suspect was subdued and arrested. Ho said in an online statement he had suffered a knife wound to the upper left part of his chest but that his life was not at risk. Two of his colleagues were also hurt, he said.

The attacker’s motive was not known, but Ho gained notoriety among anti-government protesters in July when he was filmed laughing and shaking hands with suspected triad gang members who assaulted young demonstrators.

An online video showed a man handing Ho yellow flowers before taking a knife out of his bag and stabbing him before being tackled to the ground by Ho’s aides.

Lam strongly condemned the attack when she met reporters in Beijing.

Jimmy Sham, a leader of Hong Kong’s Civil Human Rights Front, was beaten by several men with hammers in October after his group organized mass rallies against the extradition bill.

Pro-democracy district councilor Andrew Chiu had part of his ear bitten off by a knife-wielding man outside a mall on Sunday.

STUDENT PROTEST

Hundreds of black-clad students, meanwhile, protested against perceived police brutality and called for an investigation into injuries suffered by a student from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology fighting for his life after falling one floor in a car park.

The student fell from the third to the second floor of the parking lot in Tseung Kwan O, in the east of the Kowloon peninsula, during crowd dispersal operations at the weekend and was in critical condition, hospital authorities said.

University president Wei Shyy said he had visited the 22-year-old student and his parents.

“I personally feel the mood of our citizens, by and large, has worsened because of frustration, disagreement and because many feel despair,” he told angry students demanding to know what had happened.

He said the university had sent a letter to the police, asking for guidelines of how they use tear gas.

There have been conflicting accounts of how the student fell. Some have also accused police of blocking an ambulance trying to reach him.

Students from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology chant during a forum on fellow injured student Chow in Hong Kong, China, November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Police said they were not firing tear gas at the estimated time of his fall but did not rule out that he could have been trying to flee tear gas. They denied blocking an ambulance.

“I have known him for one year,” said student James, 22. “...He’s a quiet person. We play basketball together. I am worried about him. I hope he can wake up.”

Reporting by Donny Kwok, Clare Jim, Kate Lamb, Twinnie Siu and Jessie Pang; Writing by Farah Master and Nick Macfie; Editing by Alex Richardson

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