Hong Kong elite says bill withdrawal a first step as city braces for weekend protests

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Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Friday said measures announced this week to help restore order in the Chinese-ruled city are a first step, and disagreed with a credit downgrade by rating agency Fitch after months of sometimes violent protests.

The Asian financial hub is bracing for more demonstrations this weekend, with protesters threatening to disrupt transport links to the airport, after Lam’s withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill failed to appease some activists.

“The four actions are aimed at putting one step forward in helping Hong Kong to get out of the dilemma,” Lam told reporters during a trip to China’s southern region of Guangxi. “We can’t stop the violence immediately.”

Lam on Wednesday withdrew a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by its ruling Communist Party and announced three other measures to help ease the crisis.

The Beijing-backed leader said she disagreed with the Fitch downgrade, adding that said some of the activists’ demands, such as dropping charges against protesters who used violence, violated the law.

Demonstrations have gripped Hong Kong for three months, at times paralyzing parts of the city amid running street battles between protesters and police whose violence has drawn international attention.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue of Hong Kong with Chinese premier Li Keqiang in Beijing, saying a peaceful solution is needed.

“I stressed that the rights and freedoms for (Hong Kong) citizens have to be granted,” Merkel said during a visit to China.

“In the current situation violence must be prevented. Only dialogue helps. There are signs that Hong Kong’s chief executive will invite such a dialogue. I hope that materializes and that demonstrators have the chance to participate within the frame of citizens’ rights.”

Li told a news conference with Merkel, “The Chinese government unswervingly safeguards ‘one country, two systems’ and ‘Hong Kong people govern Hong Kong people’”.

Beijing supported the territory’s government “to end the violence and chaos in accordance with the law, to return to order, which is to safeguard Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability,” he added.

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