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Chaos as Hong Kong lawmakers thwart leader's annual address

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Pan-democratic legislators wearing masks of Chinese President Xi Jinping protest as Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attempts to give a policy speech at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. -
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Mark Schiefelbein
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HONG KONG — In chaotic scenes, furious lawmakers twice forced Hong Kong's leader to stop delivering a speech laying out her policy objectives and clamored for her to resign after she walked out of the legislature Wednesday and then delivered the annual address 75 minutes late via television.

Carrie Lam's inability to deliver her policy address inside the Legislative Council marked a slap in the face for the embattled chief executive grappling with anti-government protests now in their fifth month.

When Lam started delivering the speech, she was shouted down by chanting anti-government lawmakers who held aloft placards showing her waving with hands colored blood-red.

She left the chamber and then came back a few minutes later to try again, only to be interrupted one more time. Again, she left. One lawmaker wearing a paper mask showing the face of Chinese President Xi Jinping tossed a placard as Lam was leaving.

Finally, 75 minutes after the previously scheduled start of the lengthy address, Lam delivered it via video link, with China's yellow-starred red flag to her right and Hong Kong's flag on her left.

Describing the semi-autonomous Chinese territory as going through "major crisis," Lam said: "People are asking: Will Hong Kong return to normal?"

She appealed for its 7.5 million citizens to "cherish the city," warning that "continued violence and spread of hatred will erode the core values of Hong Kong."

Standing ramrod-straight, she then launched into a dry and detailed explanation of plans to tackle Hong Kong's shortage of affordable housing, a long-standing source of discontent, and other welfare issues. With its focus on such minutiae as building new tunnels and freeing up land for development, the 50-minute speech seemed likely to fuel protesters' criticism that Lam is deaf to their concerns about the future of the territory's freedoms, unique in China.

Even before Lam delivered it, one of the protesting lawmakers, Claudia Mo, dismissed the address as a "shame and a sham" and said the chief executive had lost all authority.

"She is just a puppet on strings, being played by Beijing," Mo said at an impromptu news conference with other lawmakers outside the chamber after they successfully thwarted Lam's address there.

A pan-democratic legislator is restrained as he holds up a speaker playing what legislators said was audio of police tear-gassing demonstrators to protest while Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attempts to speak at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019.
A pan-democratic legislator is restrained as he holds up a speaker playing what legislators said was audio of police tear-gassing demonstrators to protest while Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attempts to speak at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019.Mark Schiefelbein

They played a recording on a small loudspeaker they said was the sound of police tear-gassing protesters and of protesters' wails.

"These are the voices of people screaming and they are just ordinary Hong Kong people," said lawmaker Tanya Chan. "Please, please, please Mrs. Carrie Lam, don't let us suffer any more."

She and others called for Lam's resignation. "This is the only way that we can have a good future," said Chan.

Lam had been bracing for trouble in the chamber as her government battles the protests that started in June over a contested extradition bill and have snowballed into a sustained anti-government, anti-police and anti-China movement.

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