Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam rules out protest concessions ahead of Beijing visit

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday refused to accept protesters’ demands further to the extradition bill’s withdrawal ahead of her weekend visit to Beijing. (AFP)
Updated 10 December 2019

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam rules out protest concessions ahead of Beijing visit

  • In a rare lull in police-protester clashes, around 800,000 people marched peacefully through the city’s streets Sunday
  • ‘How can we completely ignore the rule of law just to fulfill the demands’

HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday ruled out further concessions to the city’s pro-democracy movement ahead of her weekend visit to Beijing, despite a landslide election defeat for the government and a peaceful mass march.
The movement, which marked its six-month anniversary on Monday, was initially sparked by a now-abandoned attempt to allow extraditions to mainland China but has since morphed into a popular revolt against Beijing’s rule.
In a rare lull in police-protester clashes, around 800,000 people marched peacefully through the city’s streets Sunday, urging the government to respond to their five demands — which include an independent inquiry into the police, an amnesty for those arrested, and fully free elections.
An end to violence is something the city’s pro-Beijing leadership has insisted must be a precursor to meaningful dialogue — but in her weekly press conference on Tuesday, Lam refused to accept protesters’ demands further to the extradition bill’s withdrawal.
“If a particular demand requires us to deviate from the law... I could not agree to accept those demands simply for the purpose of reaching people’s aspirations.”
Lam argued that an amnesty for those arrested — more than 6,000 people since June, 40 percent of them students — would violate the spirit of the rule of law.
“How can we completely ignore the rule of law just to fulfill the demands ... So we have no way to make the response, but we are still willing to examine the social problems reflected by this incident in hope of relieving residents’ grievance,” she added.
Lam said would give a “full account” of what has happened in the city when she goes to Beijing on Saturday for her regular duty visit, which typically involves a meeting with President Xi Jinping.
In late November, the city’s pro-democracy camp won a landslide victory in local elections, which critics described as a referendum for the movement, but Lam and her government remained unrattled.
The movement has upended the semi-autonomous Chinese hub’s reputation for stability and blanketed its streets with unprecedented scenes of political violence.
Despite a lull in clashes in the past two weeks, tension bubbled under the surface as police defused two improvised mail bombs discovered near a school and seized firearms including a pistol during overnight raids.


Japan to declare coronavirus emergency, launch $990 billion stimulus

Updated 06 April 2020

Japan to declare coronavirus emergency, launch $990 billion stimulus

  • More than 3,500 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Japan and 85 have died
  • Numbers keep rising with particular alarm over the spread in Tokyo, which has more than 1,000 cases

TOKYO: Japan is to impose a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures as early as Tuesday to try to stop the coronavirus, the prime minister said, with the government preparing a $990 billion stimulus package to soften the economic blow.
More than 3,500 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Japan and 85 have died — not a huge outbreak compared with some hot spots. But the numbers keep rising with particular alarm over the spread in Tokyo, which has more than 1,000 cases, including 83 new ones on Monday.
“Given the state of crisis on the medical front, the government was advised to prepare to declare the state of emergency,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters.
An emergency, which Abe said would last about a month, will give governors authority to call on people to stay at home and businesses to close, but will not be as restrictive as lockdowns in some other countries.
In most cases, there will be no penalties for ignoring requests to stay at home, and enforcement will rely more on peer pressure and respect for authority.
Pressure had been mounting on the government to take the step although Abe had voiced concern about being too hasty, given the restrictions on movement and businesses it would entail.
Abe also said the government has decided to launch a stimulus package of about 108 trillion yen, including more than 6 trillion yen for cash payouts to households and small businesses and 26 trillion yen to allow deferred social security and tax payments.
It was not immediately clear how much of that package would be new government spending.
“The government wants to help businesses continue and protect jobs,” Abe said.
An emergency appears to have public support. In a poll published on Monday by JNN, run by broadcaster TBS, 80 percent of those surveyed said Abe should declare it while 12 percent said it was not necessary. His approval rating fell by 5.7 points from last month to 43.2 percent, the survey showed.
But Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute for Public Health at King’s College, London, said the emergency was too late given the explosive increase in cases in Tokyo.
“It should have been declared by April 1 at the latest,” he said.
Sounding an alarm over the high rate of cases that could not be traced, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike indicated last week that she would favor a state of emergency as a way to help her urge residents to abide by stronger social-distancing measures.
An expert on the government’s coronavirus panel said Japan could avoid an explosive rise by reducing person-to-person contact by 80 percent.
Under a law revised in March to cover the coronavirus, the prime minister can declare a state of emergency if the disease poses a “grave danger” to lives and if its rapid spread could have a big impact on the economy.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura called for calm saying there was no need for people in designated prefectures to flee to other regions, which could spread infections, NHK reported.
While Japan’s coronavirus epidemic is dwarfed by the 335,000 infections and more than 9,500 deaths in the United States alone, experts worry a sudden surge could overwhelm Japan’s medical system.
Abe must seek formal advice from a panel of experts before deciding to go ahead and declare the emergency.
Governors in Tokyo and elsewhere have asked citizens to stay home on weekends, avoid crowds and evening outings, and work from home. That has had some effect, but not as much as many experts said was needed.