HONG KONG - Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing on Wednesday urged pro-democracy protesters who have occupied the heart of the city for more than two weeks to go home to their families, a day after 45 people were arrested following clashes with police.
Li, Asia's richest man and chairman of property developer Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd, also said in a statement that if Hong Kong's rule of law broke down it would be the"greatest sorrow" for the Chinese-controlled city.
"Since the handover, the 'one country, two system' formula has protected Hong Kong's lifestyle," Li said, referring to the formula under which the city has been run since its return from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
"I urge everyone not to be agitated. I urge everyone not to let today's passion become the regret for tomorrow. I earnestly request everyone to return to their families," Li said in his first public comments on the protests.
The "one country, two systems" formula allows wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland and specifies universal suffrage for Hong Kong as an eventual goal.
But Beijing ruled on Aug. 31 it would screen candidates who want to run for the city's chief executive in 2017, which democracy activists said rendered the universal suffrage concept meaningless.
Li's statement came a day after Hong Kong police arrested 45 protesters, as police cleared a main road in the city that had been barricaded by pro-democracy demonstrators with concrete slabs.
Li's corporate headquarters were at the front line of the protests this week when hundreds of police used sledge-hammers and chainsaws to tear down barriers erected by demonstrators in the heart of the business district.
The octogenarian was among a group of Hong Kong tycoons who visited Beijing in September to discuss issues including Hong Kong affairs with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a closed-door meeting.
The delegation also included Henderson Land Development's Lee Shau-kee, New World Development's Henry Cheng, according to local media reports.