Hong Kong tunnel reopens, campus siege nears end

HONG KONG (AP) — A major tunnel in Hong Kong reopened on Wednesday as a weeklong police siege of a nearby
university appeared to be winding down, closing one of the more violent chapters in the city’s
anti-government protests.
The Cross-Harbour Tunnel, which links Hong Kong Island to the rest of the city, had been closed for two
weeks after protesters blocked the approach with debris and set the toll booths on fire as they fought
clashes with police.
A search of the Hong Kong Polytechnic campus found just one woman, in weak condition, and a senior
university official said it’s unlikely anyone else remains.
Attention meanwhile shifted to city leader Carrie Lam’s response to a major loss in local elections
Sunday — a public rebuke of her tough line on the protests. Lam offered no concessions, saying only that
she would accelerate dialogue and identify ways to address societal grievances.
She said the central government in Beijing did not blame her for the election setback, and that while it
may have reflected unhappiness with the government’s handling of the unrest, it also showed that many
people want an end to the violence.
"Let me just stress that after these five-six months, Hong Kong people have realized very clearly
that Hong Kong could no longer tolerate this chaotic situation," Lam told reporters after a weekly
meeting with advisers. "Please help us to maintain the relative calm and peace that we have seen in
the last week or so and provide a good basis for Hong Kong to move forward."
Her refusal to compromise could spark more unrest at a time when the semi-autonomous Chinese territory
has plunged into its first recession in a decade.
The pro-democracy bloc won control of 17 out of 18 district councils.
Lam said that when she withdrew an extradition bill in September that had sparked the protests, she also
gave a detailed response to the protesters’ other demands, including free elections for the city’s
leader and legislature and a probe into accusations of police brutality.
The government hopes to take advantage of the current lull in violence to accelerate public dialogue and
set up an independent review committee to find solutions to deep-seated societal issues, she said.
"The next step to go forward is really, as you have put it, to engage the people. And we have
started public dialogue with the community," Lam said. "But unfortunately, with the unstable
environment and a chaotic situation, I could not do more on that sort of engagement. I hope that the
environment will allow me to do it now."
Some pro-establishment figures have pointed fingers at Lam for their loss, while the pro-democracy camp
has asked her to step down.
Protesters saw the extradition bill as an erosion of their rights promised when the former British colony
returned to Chinese control in 1997. The demonstrations have since expanded into a protest over what
they see as Beijing’s growing interference in the city.
Some analysts said China’s ruling Communist Party isn’t likely to soften its stand on Hong Kong. Chinese
media have muted reports on the poll outcome, focusing instead on how pro-Beijing candidates were
harassed and the need to restore law and order.
Beijing is treading cautiously partly to avoid jeopardizing trade talks with the United States. It also
faces pressure from planned U.S. legislation that could derail Hong Kong’s special trade status and
sanction Hong Kong and China officials found to violate human rights.
China’s foreign ministry on Monday summoned U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad for a second time to demand
Washington block the bipartisan legislation on Hong Kong. Vice Minister Zheng Zeguang warned that the
U.S. would "bear all the consequences that arise" if the bill is signed by President Donald
Trump.
Trump has not committed to signing it and has 10 days from the time of its passage last week to veto it.
If he does not do so, it automatically becomes law. Congress could also override a veto with a
two-thirds majority vote in both houses.
Trump told reporters Tuesday at the White House that is message to protesters is "We are with
them."
Trump cited his "very good relationship" with Chinese President Xi Jinping and that the U.S.
was in the final stages of an important trade deal.
Derek Mitchell, a former U.S ambassador to Myanmar who heads the Washington-based National Democratic
Institute, denied accusations that it had funded or supported the Hong Kong protesters. China has
accused foreign forces and money of being a "black hand" behind the protests.
Mitchell, speaking in Hong Kong, said citizens had spoken "loudly and clearly" in the local
election and that the government must respond to prevent the protests from sliding into an abyss.
"The ball is in the court of the government here and authorities in Beijing," he said.
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Associated Press video journalist Joeal Calupitan contributed to this report.