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HK cabinet reshuffle not an immediate task, says Carrie Lam

As she prepares for trip to Beijing, she says her first priority is to restore law and order in Hong Kong

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Since the protests began until now, Mrs Lam has avoided mention of the prospects of changes to her team. It has been reported that China is considering a Hong Kong cabinet reshuffle by the end of the year.

Hong Kong

A RESHUFFLE of Hong Kong's cabinet is not an "immediate task", the city's chief executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday as she prepared to visit Beijing for the first time since her government's humiliation at local polls last month.

Last Sunday, pro-democracy protesters participated in the largest mass rally since their candidates scored a landslide victory in the district elections, raising further doubts over how long China is prepared to back Mrs Lam.

Declaring her priority was to restore law and order after more than six months of often-violent protests, she said at a weekly media address that she would depart on Saturday for a regular visit to Beijing, where she would brief officials on Hong Kong's biggest political crisis in decades.

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With pressure mounting on her government, the Apple Daily newspaper, owned by pro-democracy publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai reported that China was considering a Hong Kong cabinet reshuffle by the end of the year.

Since the protests began until now, Mrs Lam has avoided mention of the prospects of changes to her team.

"My first priority now is really to restore law and order in Hong Kong and to ensure that the city can continue to move ahead, both economically and socially," she said.

Asked about a potential reshuffle, she said: "This is not an immediate task that I would accord a lot of attention to."

Pro-democracy protests have rocked the Asian financial hub and former British colony almost daily for months.

Sparked by a now-withdrawn bill allowing extradition to China, the protests have widened into calls for greater democratic freedoms and have posed the starkest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

China has condemned the unrest and blamed foreign interference. In an editorial on Monday, the China Daily newspaper, which often reflects the views of Beijing, called on Hong Kong's government to uphold the rule of law.

The protests are also taking an economic toll, pushing Hong Kong into recession and hitting the tourism and retail industries particularly hard.

More than 5,600 retail jobs could be lost and thousands of stores shut down over the next six months, as pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong continue to disrupt sales during the crucial festive period.

About 30 per cent of respondents in a survey by the Hong Kong Retail Management Association said they will cut jobs; 43 per cent said they can't continue to operate beyond six months.

Association chairman Annie Tse told reporters on Monday: "If cash flow doesn't improve and landlords don't help, there will be a wave of layoffs and business shutdowns. This will be the worst in history."

The poll, released on Monday, interviewed 176 retailers, covering 4,310 stores and 89,700 employees.

Mrs Lam said she took comfort in the relatively peaceful protest on Sunday, although she condemned an arson attack on the city's courts.

While the rally - which organisers said drew 800,000 people, while police estimated 183,000 - was largely peaceful, some protesters lit a fire outside court buildings and threw petrol bombs at government buildings.

Such a large and peaceful demonstration by people from all walks of life piles pressure on Mrs Lam and Beijing, which have said the protests are stoked by radicals and rioters.

Police said on Monday that bomb disposal officers had defused two home-made devices on the grounds of a school in the district of Wan Chai. It was not immediately clear if the devices were linked to the protests.

More than 6,000 people - nearly 40 per cent of them students - have been arrested since the demonstrations escalated in June. The police have fired around 16,000 rounds of teargas and about 10,000 rubber bullets. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG