Hong Kong leader admits inequality is fuelling mass protests

Hong Kong leader admits inequality is fuelling mass protests

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's leader admitted on Saturday that the frustration among young people over a lack of "upward mobility" was fuelling mass protests calling for free elections in the city.

Chief executive Leung Chun-ying was speaking at a government committee meeting on poverty, weeks after he shocked ordinary Hong Kongers by saying open elections were not feasible because they would result in the poor dominating politics.

Friday marked exactly two months of mass pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong by protesters calling for free leadership elections in 2017.

The Chinese government says the candidates must be vetted by a loyalist committee, which demonstrators say will result in the election of a pro-Beijing stooge.

But protesters have also expressed anger over the government's perceived cosy relationship with the Hong Kong's powerful tycoons.

The city's leader is currently selected by a 1,200 strong pro-Beijing committee stacked with elites from different business sectors.

"One of the reasons behind discontent amongst the new generation in Hong Kong that has led to the Occupy movement... is a lack of upward mobility, and as a responsible government, we do not want to leave any stone unturned," Leung said.

He added that the government's poverty commission would look into how it could help young people in order to "alleviate grievances" and thereby "relieve a portion of the demands of youths on the streets".

Sky-high property prices

But critics said Leung was missing the main point of the protests and dodging the real reason why people are taking to the streets.

"All these problems about mobility stem from the very twisted and very unfair political system we've got in Hong Kong," pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo told AFP.

"He's missed the point. What Hong Kong people are fighting for is not just constitutional voting rights. We're fighting for grievances stemming from the lack of such rights," Mo, a member of pro-democracy the Civic Party said.

Many young people in Hong Kong, even if they are educated and employed, cannot afford to buy or rent a home in the city known for its sky-high property prices.

Leung was presenting a new report by the poverty commission which said that the number of people living in poverty in 2013 had dropped to 970,000 - 14.5 percent of the seven-million population - the lowest in five years.

The report attributed the decrease to a favourable economic climate and cash benefits for vulnerable groups.

It also said poverty rates for single-parent and new immigrant households remain high, with the rates for both of the groups above 35 percent.

In September last year the semi-autonomous territory found almost 20 percent of its residents lived in poverty after setting its first official benchmark to measure the problem.

Despite boasting a substantial wealthy elite, many Hong Kongers live in cramped conditions scraping by on comparatively small incomes.

Tens of thousands of low-income families and immigrants are forced to live in tiny subdivided units, unable to afford the high rents demanded for a full apartment.

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