Hong Kong's embattled leader Carrie Lam has said she "would resign if she could", according to an audio recording of a speech she gave to a group of businesspeople last week.
In often anguished remarks, she apologised for igniting the "unforgivable chaos" in the city and said her room to respond was "very limited" as the Chinese government now considers the protest movement a national security issue.
"If I have a choice," she said, "the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology."
The audio recording of the speech, given in English, was obtained by Reuters and gives the clearest indication yet of the weakness of the Hong Kong government in relation to Beijing, which has not faced a political crisis this severe since the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
Lam has long denied being a puppet of the Chinese government but reports have consistently made clear that the Communist Party is effectively calling the shots on how to handle the crisis.
However, Lam was adamant the Chinese military will not intervene.
She said there was "absolutely no plan" to deploy the People's Liberation Army and that China has imposed no deadline on ending the unrest, preferring to ride out any economic cost.
The chief executive, who was chosen as city leader in 2017, spoke of her sadness at being unable to walk the city or visit hair salons such is the anger at her government.
However, she was bitterly self-critical about the decision to try and pass the extradition bill that kicked off the protests, saying the decision was nothing to do with Beijing.
"This is not something instructed, coerced by the central government," she said, adding "this has proven to be very unwise given the circumstances. And this huge degree of fear and anxiety amongst people of Hong Kong vis-à-vis the mainland of China, which we were not sensitive enough to feel and grasp."
Often criticised as inflexible and unempathetic in her public appearances, Lam choked up several times during the meeting, which was one of several behind-closed-doors encounters she has arranged with citizens from "all walks of life".
In the 24-minute recording, she says that for "for a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable."
Meanwhile yesterday/Monday thousands of secondary school and university students protested on the day they were due back in class, announcing a two-week boycott.
Co-organised by two student groups and the pro-democracy party Demosisto, one organiser said over 4,000 secondary school students from over 230 schools joined the rally.
"I am more worried about Hong Kong than ourselves at this moment, maybe in the next five years we will be studying in the university or working, but what is happening now will affect the whole Hong Kong society, and other countries as well," said one student, 17, in a school uniform.
Across the harbour thousands of students from 10 universities gathered at the Chinese University in black t-shirts, some holding signs saying "boycott for freedom".
In a press conference on Monday, Hong Kong police said they had arrested 159 people over the weekend, including one 13-year-old found with petrol bombs.
China's foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuan, yesterday said the demonstrations in Hong Kong had "completely exceeded the scope of freedom of assembly".