HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced measures aimed at easing a housing shortage on Wednesday as she battles to restore confidence in her administration and address widespread discontent after four months of anti-government protests.
Lam had earlier been forced to abort her annual policy address after some lawmakers jeered as she began speaking, causing an unprecedented cancellation of the speech in the legislature of the Chinese-ruled city.
The Beijing-backed Lam later gave her speech over a video feed, saying her government would drastically increase the number of housing projects and accelerate the sale of public housing schemes.
Anger over sky-high property prices, especially among the young, is widely believed to have fueled the at times violent protests that have rocked the city for months.
Lam, who has rejected calls to step down, said about 700 hectares of private land in the city’s New Territories would be brought back into public use under what is know as a land resumption ordinance.
A further 450 hectares was earmarked for “resumption”, she said.
The measures are among the boldest in recent years to take back large tracts of land held by a handful of powerful developers.
Major developers, including Henderson Land, New World Development and Sun Hung Kai Properties, are sitting on “no less than 1,000 hectares” of agricultural land, according to government estimates.
Before Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, the colonial administration often deployed the ordinance to take property for public use, offering compensation to landowners.FIVE DEMANDS
Earlier, pro-democracy lawmakers shouted “five demands, not one less” as they heckled Lam, who faces immense pressure to regain trust and resolve the city’s biggest political crisis in decades, in a disruption that forced the meeting to be adjourned twice.
The dissenting legislators managed to project the call for “five demands, not one less”, which has become one of the pr-democracy movement’s rallying cry, onto a backdrop behind Lam as she tried to deliver her speech.Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam reacts as lawmakers shout slogans, disrupting her annual policy address at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China, October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
The demands include universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into what they say has been excessive force by police in dealing with demonstrations.
Some of the protesting lawmakers wore masks of Chinese President Xi Jinping inside the chamber.
Pro-democracy legislator Tanya Chan said Lam was to blame for Hong Kong’s chaos.
“Both her hands are soaked with blood,” an emotional Chan told a news conference after the policy session.
“We hope Carrie Lam withdraws and quits. She has no governance ability … she is not suitable to be chief executive”
Security was very tight ahead of Lam’s third policy address, with riot police stationed outside and water cannon on standby.
She was speaking hours after the U.S. House of Representatives passed three pieces of legislation related to the Hong Kong protests, drawing a swift rebuke from Beijing, which accused the lawmakers of “sinister intentions” of undermining stability in the Asian financial hub.Slideshow (12 Images)
One of the measures, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, would require the U.S. secretary of state to certify every year that Hong Kong retained its autonomy in order to keep receiving the special treatment that has allowed it to be a major financial center.
Lam has ruled out making any concessions to the protesters in the face of escalating unrest, saying, “Violence would only breed more violence.”
Reporting By Donny Kwok, Clare Jim, Sarah Wu, Twinnie Siu, Farah Master, James Pomfret and Jessie Pang; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Robert Birsel