HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong authorities barred pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong from an election as the city’s leader warned Tuesday that months of violent protests have pushed the city to the brink of recession.
In comments likely to further anger protesters, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said there would be no political solution until the violent protests gripping the semi-autonomous Chinese territory end.
“For the government to resort to measures that will appease the violent rioters, I don’t think that is the solution,” Lam told reporters.
“Until and unless we tackle the violence and put an end to it, it is very difficult to continue the political dialogue we have done,” Lam said.
Hong Kong has been wracked by political crisis since early June. What initially were massive but peaceful marches and sit-ins have intensified into battles between hardcore demonstrators hurling firebombs and bricks at police who have deployed tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons. Both sides blame the other for using increasingly aggressive tactics.
Samson Yuen, an assistant professor of political science at Lingnan University, said the main factor drawing people into the protests has been anger over alleged police brutality.
Yuen said the decision to disqualify Wong from running in a local election was a “strange decision” also likely to add to public “anger or grievances.”
Wong, 23, became known as the young face of Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Movement” that peacefully occupied streets for 79 days in 2014. He since has been repeatedly arrested and jailed. He has played a smaller role in the current protests, whose leadership is more diffuse, but China’s communist leaders have targeted him in accusing foreign powers of colluding with anti-China separatists to foment unrest.
Wong posted on his Twitter account a copy of a letter ruling invalid his nomination as a candidate in the Nov. 24 local district council elections. The government confirmed Wong’s disqualification, without identifying him.
“The decision to ban me from running for office is clearly politically driven,” Wong told reporters. He said Beijing was pressuring Hong Kong election officials to carry out political censorship but it would backfire.
“It will just trigger more and more Hong Kongers to take to the street and also vote in the election.”
The letter said Wong’s embrace of the concept of self-determination includes Hong Kong’s independence, which violates a requirement to promise to uphold its constitution. Wong denied that, saying his answers to the officer’s questions were twisted as part of a “mind reading game.”
Wong and other pro-democracy activists were disqualified from running in previous elections. This time, Wong said he alone was banned among more than 1,000 candidates.
Hong Kong’s neighborhood councilors and half of Hong Kong’s legislature are directly elected, but the rest are chosen by trade and industry groups while the top leader is handpicked by an elite pro-Beijing panel.
The protesters are seeking full democracy and want that to change.
The current round of demonstrations was sparked by concern over proposed extradition legislation that could have led to Hong Kong citizens facing trials in mainland Chinese courts, where they would not enjoy the same sorts of civil protections granted to their own region when Britain handed control of the former colony to China in 1997.
It reflects deep unease over an erosion of such rights and liberties, which are denied to people living under communist rule in the Chinese mainland.
The extradition legislation was eventually formally withdrawn, but the authorities have rejected calls for Lam to resign and for an independent inquiry into the handling of the protests by the police. Meanwhile, the protesters have widened their demands, seeking greater democracy.
With no end to the standoff in sight, Lam said the city is at risk of falling into a recession as its tourism and retail industries languish.
“If this quarter’s growth rate, compared to the second quarter’s growth rate, is negative, it will be the second decline in a row. Then it can be said that we have entered a technical recession,” she said.
The economy could end up contracting for the full year, she said.