October 16, 2019 / 2:57 PM / a month ago

Hong Kong protesters intend to topple city's government, says Singapore PM

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Hong Kong protesters demanding universal suffrage and an amnesty for those charged with rioting are trying to humiliate and bring down the Chinese-ruled city’s government, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday.

In the strongest remarks yet by the ethnically-Chinese-majority Southeast Asian country which has close relations with China, Lee said the demands did not provide a way out of often-violent unrest which has gripped Hong Kong for months.

His comments came after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam had to abandon a policy speech on Wednesday after she was jeered by pro-democracy lawmakers.

“The demonstrators say they have five major demands and not one can be compromised but those are not demands which are meant to be a programme to solve Hong Kong’s problems. Those are demands which are intended to humiliate and bring down the government,” Lee said at a business conference in Singapore.

The demands include full democracy and an independent inquiry into what they say has been excessive force by police in dealing with the unrest.

“There is no simple solution ... to say we want universal suffrage, but Hong Kong is not a country, it is a special administrative region,” Lee added.

Lee said there could be some legislative reform or social policies that could help restore order but that it would not be easy.

He said the unrest was causing ructions across the region.

“When Hong Kong is troubled, when there are demonstrations or worse riots, when the chief executive is booed out of the Legislative Council chamber, I think that is very sad for Hong Kong and bad for the region,” Lee said. “We look on with concern.”

Singapore, a rival financial centre to Hong Kong, has been seen as a potential beneficiary if business and money move due to the protests, however Singapore lawmakers have been at pains to play down any positive gains.

The Hong Kong protesters are angry at what they see as Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong, which was guaranteed 50 years of freedoms under the “one country, two systems” when Britain returned the city to China in 1997.

In her news conference, Lam rejected two of the protesters’ five demands - amnesty for those charged and universal suffrage - saying the first was illegal and the second beyond the chief executive’s power.

Reporting by John Geddie; Editing by Nick Macfie

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