Hong Kong Police Siege Ends; City Leader Under Pressure

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Monday she would “seriously reflect” on the landslide victory by pro-democracy candidates in the Sunday elections that were a clear rebuke of how she has handled protests, and the police siege of Hong Kong Polytechnic University appears to be over, as only one woman was found in a campus search Tuesday.

Pro-democracy candidates swept nearly 90% of 452 district council seats, which will help it take unprecedented control of 17 out of 18 district councils, said Wu Chi-wai, head of the biggest pro-democracy bloc.

Riot police stand by as the last protester is led from Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Monday night. (AP photo/Kin Cheung)

Sunday’s results could force the central government in Beijing to rethink how to handle the unrest, now in its sixth month. The district councils have little power, but the vote was a referendum on public support for the protests.

“It’s nothing short of a revolution,” said Willy Lam, a political expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “It’s a sound repudiation of the Carrie Lam administration and shows the silent majority are behind the demands of the protesters.”

Lam acknowledged that some people viewed the results as a demonstration of public “dissatisfaction with the current situation and the deep-seated problems in society.”

She said the government “will listen to the opinions of members of the public humbly and seriously reflect” on them.

The pro-democracy camp hailed its astounding gains as a victory for the people and said Lam and Beijing now must seriously heed protesters’ demands, which include free elections for the city’s leader and legislature and an investigation of police brutality.

“We are only vehicles used to reflect the people’s concerns,” said Wu.

Beijing, which blames foreign powers for fomenting the unrest in Hong Kong, has showed no signs that it might soften its stance on the former British colony, which was returned to China in 1997.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters that Hong Kong will always be part of China, no matter the election outcome.

“Any attempts to destroy Hong Kong or harm Hong Kong’s stability and development cannot possibly succeed,” he said.

But the results will add pressure on Lam. Some pro-establishment candidates have already pointed fingers at her for their loss, and the pro-democracy camp says she should quit.

“I would say directly to Carrie Lam, ‘Do not squander this opportunity. Don’t waste this chance … the window has been opened for you,’” said British politician David Alton, an independent election monitor.

Meanwhile, a weeklong police siege of Hong Kong Polytechnic University appears to be over, as a Tuesday search found just one woman, in weak condition, on campus, and a senior university official said it’s unlikely anyone else remains.

A few people might still be hiding in the warren of buildings on the urban campus, trying to avoid arrest. Police have cordoned off the area to try to prevent anyone from escaping.

Alex Wai, vice president of the Polytechnic University, led a search of the campus for the last holdout protesters in Hong Kong on Tuesday. (AP photo/Ng Han Guan)

Polytechnic University Vice President Alexander Wai, who led a search of most of the campus by seven teams, said he could not rule that out, but “the possibility is not very high.”

Attention in Hong Kong has shifted to Carrie Lam’s response to a major loss in Sunday elections. Lam, after issuing only a written statement Monday, offered no concessions to anti-government protesters, saying only that she would accelerate dialogue and seek ways to address societal grievances.

She said the central government in Beijing did not blame her for the election setback, and that while it may have reflected unhappiness with the government’s handling of the unrest, it also showed that many people want an end to the violence.

“Let me just stress that after these five-six months, Hong Kong people have realized very clearly that Hong Kong could no longer tolerate this chaotic situation,” Lam told reporters after a weekly meeting with advisers. “Please help us to maintain the relative calm and peace that we have seen in the last week or so and provide a good basis for Hong Kong to move forward.”

Her refusal to compromise could spark more unrest at a time when the city has plunged into its first recession in a decade.

The streets around Polytechnic were the scenes of fierce clashes with police 10 days ago. Protesters used the campus as a base and shut down access to a major roadway under Hong Kong’s harbor, setting the toll booths on fire.

The Cross-Harbour Tunnel will reopen Wednesday morning, earlier than expected, a senior city official announced.

The seven search teams went through most of the buildings on the Polytechnic campus, finding one woman who appeared weak, a university statement said.

Wai, the vice president, said she is over 18 and not a student of the university. A Red Cross first aid team gave her medical care, and counselors were trying to coax her to surrender.

Holdouts at the university had been trying to avoid arrest.

The search teams found Molotov cocktails and other dangerous items, the Polytechnic statement said. The library was flooded, and the fuel tanks of cars had been forced open.

The university planned to resume the search in the morning.

Analysts say China’s ruling Communist Party and its strongman Xi Jinping are not likely to soften its stand on Hong Kong. Chinese media have muted reports on the poll outcome, focusing instead on how pro-Beijing candidates were harassed and the need to restore law and order.

Beijing is treading cautiously partly to avoid jeopardizing trade talks with the United States. It also faces pressure from U.S. legislation that could derail Hong Kong’s special trade status and sanction Hong Kong and China officials found to violate human rights.

China’s foreign ministry on Monday summoned U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad for a second time to demand Washington block the bipartisan legislation on Hong Kong. Vice Minister Zheng Zeguang warned that the United States would “bear all the consequences that arise” if the bill is signed into law.

President Donald Trump has not committed to signing it and has 10 days from the time of its passage last week to veto it. If he does not do so, it becomes law. Congress could override a veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both houses.

Derek Mitchell, a former U.S ambassador to Myanmar who heads the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, denied accusations that it funded or supported the Hong Kong protesters. China has accused foreign forces and money of being a “black hand” behind the protests.

Mitchell, speaking in Hong Kong, said citizens had spoken “loudly and clearly” in the election and that the government must respond to prevent the protests from sliding into an abyss.

“The ball is in the court of the government here and authorities in Beijing,” he said.

A record 71% of Hong Kong’s 4.1 million registered voters cast ballots in the city’s only fully democratic elections, well exceeding the 47% turnout in the same poll four years ago.

The largest pro-establishment political party suffered the biggest setback, with only 21 of its 182 candidates winning. Many pro-Beijing political heavyweights were trounced, including lawmaker Junius Ho, who is reviled by protesters for supporting a bloody mob attack on demonstrators in July. Ho was stabbed while campaigning this month.

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