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Hong Kong protesters take to hills, as leader pledges housing reform

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Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters took to the hills to form flashlight-carrying human chains on Friday, using the Mid-Autumn Festival as a backdrop for the latest in more than three months of demonstrations that have sometimes flared into violence.

The peaceful protests, on a day when families traditionally gather to gaze at the moon and eat mooncakes while children swing colourful lanterns from the end of sticks, came after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam promised to focus on housing and jobs to try to end the unrest.

Lam, who said she caused “unforgivable havoc” by igniting the crisis and would quit if she had the choice, said in a Facebook post her government would increase the supply of housing in the Chinese-ruled city.

“Housing and people’s livelihoods are the main priorities,” Lam said. “The government will add to housing supply measures which will be continuously put in place and not missed.”

As darkness fell on Friday night, protesters armed with flashlights, mobile phones and flashing lanterns, gathered at Victoria Peak, overlooking the city’s harbour, and Lion Rock, separating the New Territories from the Kowloon peninsula.

They were also climbing to the top of Tai Tung Shan on the offshore island of Lantau.

The spark for the protests was a now-withdrawn extradition bill and concerns that Beijing is eroding civil liberties, but many young protesters are also angry at sky-high living costs and a lack of job prospects.

Hong Kong has some of the world’s most expensive real estate and many young people say the city’s housing policy is unfair, benefiting the rich while forcing them to live with their parents or rent “shoe box” apartments at exorbitant prices.

The demonstrations started in June in response to a bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts, but have broadened into calls for greater democracy.

At lunch on Friday, hundreds of pro-Beijing supporters packed into a shopping mall waving China flags and singing the Chinese national anthem.

Multiple Hong Kong events and conferences have been cancelled and the number of visitors plunged 40 percent in August. The city’s premier women’s tennis event scheduled for October has been postponed.

Organisers also called off the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “Matilda the Musical”, due to run from Sept. 20 to Oct. 20.

Based on Reuters

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