Hong Kong leader warns of economic downturn

Carrie Lam, however, has refused to cave in to protesters' demands in order for the protests to stop

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam

Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam warned Friday that two months of pro-democracy demonstrations were causing economic chaos in the city, AFP reports. Yet, she ruled out making concessions to "silence the violent protesters". Her words came as she met with business leaders as thousands of pro-democracy activists staged a sit-in at Hong Kong airport, hoping to win international support for their movement.

Lam, whose support for a bill to allow extradition to mainland China sparked the massive crisis, warned that the economic impact of the unrest threatened to be worse than the 2003 SARS outbreak or the 2008 financial crisis in the financial hub.

"Compared to the economic downturn caused by SARS that we handled previously, even to the (2008) economic crisis, the situation this time is more severe," she said at an abruptly organised press conference.

"In other words, the economic recovery will take a very long time," she added.

The private sector and the tourism industry have already raised concerns about the economic impact of the ongoing protests on the city, with travel agencies reporting drops of up to 50% in group tour bookings and the tourism board warning of double-digit declines in visitor arrivals in the second half of July. Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific has also warned that inbound bookings are down.

The decline comes as protesters are continuing to stage almost daily rallies which have seen increasingly violent confrontations with police, prompting several countries to issue Hong Kong travel warnings for their citizens. It all started almost three months ago over the controversial extradition bill, which was then suspended - but not fully withdrawn. By the time it was suspended, however, the movement had already morphed into a broader movement calling for autonomy, full democracy and the ousting of city's chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Lam, nevertheless, has refused to cave in to the demands, which include a call for the direct election of the city's chief executive, currently chosen by Beijing.

"As far as political solution is concerned, I don't think we should just sort of make concessions in order to silence the violent protesters," she said.

"We should do what is right for Hong Kong. And at this moment what is right for Hong Kong... is to stop the violence, and to say no to the chaotic situation that Hong Kong has experienced in the last few weeks, so that we can move on," she went on.

Thus, on Friday, activists once again showed no sign of backing down, staging a new sit-in at the Hong Kong airport's arrivals hall - the first of three days of rallies planned at the transport hub. The airport sit-in was the second time the demonstrators have brought their message to the busy travel hub, hoping to garner support from international arrivals. In the evening protesters gathered then in the Wong Tai Sin neighbourhood, where earlier this week police fired tear gas at protesters for a subversive play on a Chinese festival where offerings are burned to appease the spirits of the dead. Around 100 protesters gathered to burn paper money featuring caricatures of Lam and emblazoned with the logo "Hell Bank Note" as others looked on.

Further protests are planned across Hong Kong over the weekend, with fears that new confrontations between police and demonstrators are possible. Hundreds of people have already been arrested in the unrest.

The weeks of demonstrations pose the biggest threat to Beijing's authority since Hong Kong's handover from Britain in 1997.

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