HONG KONG -- Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam's government again pushed back on a key demand of protesters as a downtown rally turned violent, showing the unrest that began last June still has no end in sight.
In a lengthy statement on Sunday, a government spokesman recapped failed attempts to implement a promise of universal suffrage since China took control of the former British colony in 1997. It said the Hong Kong's residents need a "clear understanding" that any chief executive elected by all citizens shall also be accountable to Beijing.
"This is the constitutional order under the 'one country, two systems' principle which should not be ignored," the spokesman said. "The community needs to attain a consensus on these principles, and premised on the legal basis, to narrow differences through dialogues under a peaceful atmosphere with mutual trust."
"Any constructive discussion on the issue of constitutional development would be difficult to commence if the aforesaid cannot be achieved," it added.
The statement, which mimics the same stance Beijing has held on universal suffrage since 2014, shows that Lam's government still isn't budging on the core demand still driving the protests. The unrest has plunged Hong Kong into its first recession since the global financial crisis, with the retail and tourism sectors particularly hard hit.
Traffic through Hong Kong International Airport declined across the board last year as protesters conducted sit-ins and disrupted transport routes. The airport handled 71.5 million passengers in 2019, down 4.2% from a year earlier, the Airport Authority Hong Kong said Sunday. Flight movements fell 1.9%, while total cargo throughput declined 6.1% from a year ago to 4.8 million tonnes.
The demonstration on Sunday started peacefully in Chater Garden in the Central business district, with speeches and music drawing in thousands of people. But police ordered the rally to end early, citing violent behavior by protesters who fanned out from the approved meeting area.
Police scuffled with demonstrators and handcuffed a number of people who blocked roads and set fire to barricades. Two officers from the Police Community Liaison Office suffered head wounds after being attacked with wooden sticks and other weapons near the rally, according to the police.
One of the organizers of Sunday's rally, Ventus Lau of the Hong Kong Civil Assembly team, said his goal was to get the world to focus on the city again after global headlines turned to Taiwan's election and the crisis involving Iran. He also insisted protesters would keep fighting for meaningful elections.