HK's next leader pledges to heal divisions, put city back on "normal course"

HONG KONG, May 4 (Reuters) - Hong Kong's next leader, Carrie

Lam, vowed on Thursday to heal political and social divides,

pledging to return the global financial hub to its "normal

course of development".

Lam takes office on July 1 after being selected in March

amid widespread concern that Beijing's meddling had sealed her

victory and denied the freewheeling former British colony a more

popular leader.

The former civil service chief replaces her former boss,

incumbent Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, a deeply unpopular

leader widely viewed in the city as being too eager to please

Beijing's Communist Party leadership.

Those leaders are increasingly fearful that a fledgling

independence or secessionist movement in Hong Kong could spread,

and a Beijing official based in the city warned at the weekend

that further trouble could threaten its vaunted autonomy.

The city was promised widespread freedoms and legal

protections under a "one country, two systems" formula agreed

when Britain handed it back to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Acknowledging tension and the city's restive youth, Lam said

she was aware of the city's problems and deeply polarized views.

"I will do my utmost to unify society and to bring Hong Kong

back to its normal course of development, because I think that

is the aspiration of the great majority of Hong Kong people,"

said Lam, who will become Hong Kong's first female leader.

She said her election manifesto had emphasized the need to

address the aspirations and "unhappiness" of young people with

greater opportunities and upward mobility.

"So together with my team from July 1, that is going to be

one of our policy priorities."

Lam offered no fresh specifics on any new policies or views

on political reform but she has previously said that unifying

society was a key goal, besides improving livelihoods and the

city’s troubled governance.

Many of the city's pro-democracy opposition and activists

were opposed to Lam's selection by a 1,200-person election panel

stacked with pro-Beijing and pro-establishment loyalists, who

spurned the more popular candidate, former government financial

chief John Tsang.

She faces widespread fears that Hong Kong's freedoms are

under threat and must tackle soaring property prices that are,

in part, driving divisions and widening an extreme wealth gap.

Part of the public mistrust of Lam stems from her previously

close working ties with Leung, who ordered tear gas to be fired

at pro-democracy protesters in late 2014, during the

long-running 'Occupy' civil disobedience movement.

(Reporting by Greg Torode and Donny Kwok; Editing by Clarence

Fernandez)