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Beijing calls on all Hong Kong institutions to fight ‘violent criminals’ and end protests

HONG KONG — Beijing has called on all Hong Kong institutions with public authority, including the judiciary, to fight “violent criminals” with no mercy to put an end to more than 13 weeks of anti-government protests and violence.

The protests have gripped Hong Kong since June this year.

The protests have gripped Hong Kong since June this year.

HONG KONG — Beijing has called on all Hong Kong institutions with public authority, including the judiciary, to fight “violent criminals” with no mercy to put an end to more than 13 weeks of anti-government protests and violence.

“The Hong Kong government, including the executive, legislative and judiciary branches, as well as all sectors of society must take ‘bridling turmoil and curbing violence’ as the city’s most pressing task and the overwhelming priority,” Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) spokesman Yang Guang said on Tuesday.

“Especially to those key violent criminals and their backstage masterminds, organisers and agitators, [we] must show no mercy and pursue till the end.”

It was the fourth press conference on the crisis called by Beijing’s top office on Hong Kong affairs under the State Council, China’s cabinet, and its first appeal to the city’s legislative and judicial institutions to rally behind the government’s efforts to end the violence and chaos.

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council has an active and vocal opposition that is strongly supportive of the protest movement, and the city’s courts have a strong reputation for being independent.

A spokeswoman for the judiciary said it would not comment on Mr Yang’s remarks. “The courts will always handle cases fully in accordance with the law,” she added.

Separately on Tuesday, President Xi Jinping listed Hong Kong and Macau issues, along with economic, political, military and foreign affairs, as areas that would face massive and “complex” conflicts as he rallied cadres to struggle against any forces that would threaten Communist Party rule.

“There will be many major struggles in areas of economics, politics, culture, society, ecology, national defence, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, diplomacy, party building, and so on, and they are getting more and more complicated,” Mr Xi told the Central Party School, which trains senior and medium-ranking officials.

In his opening remarks at the HKMAO news conference on the protests in Hong Kong – sparked by a now-shelved extradition bill – Mr Yang also took aim more broadly at other bodies. “All institutions with public power should act quickly and decisively. The rule of law must not relent,” he said.

Through its party mouthpiece People’s Daily, Beijing has in recent weeks criticised the city’s railway operator, the MTR Corporation, for not forcefully dealing with protesters who had been obstructing its trains and using them as an easy means to flee from police.

Mr Yang also hinted that any revival of the city’s stalled electoral reform process must be based on a framework that would effectively allow Beijing to screen out candidates it did not deem trustworthy.

“Only with that framework can it produce a chief executive who loves the nation and Hong Kong, is trustworthy to the central government and accepted by Hong Kong people through universal suffrage,” he said.

Mr Yang said that any discussion of universal suffrage for Hong Kong would have to adhere to the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, and decisions by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC).

It was the NPCSC, China’s top legislative body, that set the rigid “831” framework for political reform on August 31, 2014. It laid down the rule that if Hong Kong were to elect its leader by universal suffrage, a 1,200-member committee traditionally dominated by Beijing loyalists would pre-screen and nominate two or three candidates who would then be elected through a one person, one vote arrangement.

The bill was not passed by Legco and sparked 79 straight days of road blockades by protesters, who launched the Occupy movement to condemn it.

“No matter when electoral reform will restart, universal suffrage in Hong Kong must follow the Basic Law and the relevant decision made by the NPCSC,” Mr Yang said.

It was the first time since the protests in Hong Kong began in June that the HKMAO stated in such detail its stance on relaunching discussions on universal suffrage for the city – one of the five key demands by protesters and an issue that opposition lawmakers have characterised as the crux of deep discontent in society.

Mr Yang stuck to the original “831” framework – chief executive candidates would be selected by a nomination committee, voted on by the public and finally appointed by the central government.

“The three steps of nomination, election and appointment should play substantial roles,” he said. “Hong Kong’s universal suffrage can only be done this way, there is no other choice.”

Mr Yang also called radical protesters “lunatics”, as evidenced by their “pro-independence” actions – including vandalising the national emblem, burning the Chinese flag and throwing it into the sea.

But he also took pains to point out that peaceful demonstrations were allowed under Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” governing formula.

“No matter what motivates the citizens, including young students, to protest through the marches and gatherings, as long as they participate in a peaceful and lawful way, it is allowed by law under one country, two systems,” Mr Yang said.

HKMAO spokeswoman Xu Luying sidestepped a reporter’s question on whether Beijing had a deadline for Hong Kong to end the crisis.

“The earlier the end of Hong Kong’s chaos comes, the better,” she said.

Professor Tian Feilong, associate professor at Beihang University’s law school in Beijing, said institutions with public power included all statutory bodies financed by the Hong Kong government.

“It includes the Airport Authority, Hospital Authority, the MTR Corporation and local universities,” he said. “From Beijing’s perspective, pressure like this should be normal as the institutions hold public power. It is the Beijing and Hong Kong governments’ responsibility to remind and monitor these bodies.”

Pro-Beijing legislator Starry Lee Wai-king said Yang’s remarks showed that the central government was concerned about Hong Kong’s situation, but pan-democratic lawmakers said they proved that Beijing had lost touch with the Hong Kong people.

“We are not trying to overthrow the Communist Party; we just want Beijing to respect Hong Kong people, and let us elect the chief executive and all lawmakers by popular ballot,” Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan said. SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

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