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HONG KONG — Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday renewed an appeal to pro-democracy protesters to halt violence and engage in dialogue, as the city’s richest man urged the government to provide a way out for the mostly young demonstrators.
The government promised last week to withdraw an extradition bill that sparked three months of protests, but failed to placate protesters, whose demands also include democratic reforms and police accountability. Protesters vandalized subway stations, set street fires and blocked traffic over the weekend, forcing police to fire tear gas.
Lam said the escalation of violence, in which more than 150 people including students were detained in clashes since Friday, will deepen rifts and prolong the road to recovery.
She said her decision to formally withdraw the extradition bill and her other initiatives reflected her sincerity to heal society and bring back peace.
“We are gearing up to go into the community to have that dialogue directly with the people but I make a further appeal here, that the first priority in order to achieve the objective of bringing peace and order to Hong Kong, is for all of us, all people of Hong Kong, to say no to violence,” she told a news conference.
Billionaire Li Ka Shing, in a video broadcast on local TV, described the summer of unrest as the worst catastrophe since World War II. In his first public comments, Li, 91, called youths the “masters of our future” and said the government should temper justice with mercy in resolving the crisis.
“I am very worried. We hope Hong Kong people will be able to ride out the storm. We hope the young people can consider the big picture and those at the helm can give the masters of our future a way out,” Li told a religious gathering outside a Buddhist temple over the weekend.
“Although humanity may sometimes clash with the rule of law, in political issues, both sides should try to put their feet in another’s shoes, then many big troubles can be reduced into smaller ones,” he said. Li recently took out newspaper advertisements urging an end to violence.
Many see the extradition bill, which would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China for trial, as a glaring example of the city’s eroding autonomy since the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.
Asked about Li’s comments, Lam agreed that the government “can do more and can do better” especially in meeting young people to hear their grievances.
But she stressed the government cannot condone violence and will strictly enforce the law.
The unrest has become the biggest challenge to Beijing’s rule since it took over Hong Kong and is an embarrassment to its ruling Communist Party ahead of Oct. 1 celebrations of its 70th year in power. Beijing has slammed the protests as an effort by criminals to split the territory from China, backed by what it said were hostile foreigners.
Lam also reiterated Tuesday that attempts by foreign nations to interfere in Hong Kong’s internal affairs over freedom and civil liberties in the city were “totally unnecessary.”
She said the government has the “obligation and duties” to safeguard the city’s autonomy.
Rail link operator MTR Corp. on Tuesday released images from security camera recordings of police activity on Aug. 31 at a subway station to quash online rumours suggesting that deaths had occurred that night. But it refused to bow to protesters’ demands to release video, citing a police investigation.
Police public relations officer Yu Hoi-kwan said there were no missing persons reports from that night. The government has repeatedly said no deaths have occurred since the protests started in June.