Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam promised to prioritise housing and people’s livelihoods to appease deep-rooted discontent about the way the Asian financial hub has been governed, as protesters geared up for fresh demonstrations.
Lam, who said she caused “unforgivable havoc” by igniting the political crisis and would quit if she had a choice, said in a Facebook post late on Thursday her government would increase the supply of housing with more policies to be announced.
While it was a now-withdrawn extradition bill that sparked the demonstrations that have convulsed Hong Kong since June, protesters are also concerned about economic issues including the sky-high living costs and a lack of future job prospects.
Hong Kong has some of the world’s most expensive property and many young people say the city’s housing policy is unfair, benefitting the rich, while forcing them to live with their parents or rent “shoe-box” apartments at exorbitant prices.
Lam’s comments come as activists plan the latest in a series of protests in the former British colony, which is grappling with its biggest political crisis in decades.
The demonstrations started more than three months ago in response to the extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts, but have broadened into calls for greater democracy.
On Friday, demonstrators are set to carry lanterns and form human chains on the scenic Victoria Peak, popular with mainland tour groups, and on Lion Rock, separating the New Territories from the Kowloon peninsula.
Sit-ins at shopping malls and another “stress test” of the airport are also planned over the weekend. In recent weeks, protesters have blocked access to the airport, one of the region’s busiest hubs.
Activists also plan to gather outside the British consulate on Sunday to demand that China honours the Sino-British Joint Declaration that was signed in 1984 and laid out the territory’s future before its return to Chinese rule in 1997.
China says Hong Kong is now its internal affair. The United Kingdom says it has a legal responsibility to ensure China abides by its obligations under the Joint Declaration.
Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent judicial system.
China denies meddling and has accused the United States, the United Kingdom and others of fomenting the unrest.
Police have responded to violence with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, water cannon and baton charges, as well as firing several live shots in the air, prompting complaints of excessive force.