PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 August, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 August, 2000, 12:00am

The man who has acted as a mediator to prevent clashes between right-of-abode seekers and authorities was nowhere to be seen during last night's showdown.

Father Franco Mella was on the mainland teaching children English at a remote village school in Xian and his absence may have been a crucial factor.

The priest has been a keen supporter of the protesters and has continually tried to calm them down during clashes with police and officials.

He is also the man authorities call on to help to restore calm when a situation is out of control. In January when a group of hunger-striking overstayers outside Victoria Prison refused to leave, acting Deputy Secretary for Security Cathy Chu Man-ling made a plea to Father Mella to persuade the hunger strikers to stop their action.

Last Thursday, when 10 mainland overstayers clashed with immigration officers at Immigration Tower, Father Mella helped restore calm by pushing back emotional protesters. He said at the time that radical protests were not encouraged, adding that this would only harm the claimants' image.

He also has criticised the Government for exploiting Hong Kong people's 'superiority complex' over mainlanders and for making the latter scapegoats for social problems. 'People think that if mainlanders come here they'll lose their jobs. They say 'you're making Hong Kong society worse, you're destroying stability',' Father Mella said.