Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying cancelled his trip to tomorrow's Apec leaders' summit in Russia to deal with the controversies on his own doorstep.
Leung must defuse the turmoil over national education, as well as decide on a scheme to restrict sales of new homes to Hong Kong buyers. He also has to deal with the issue of the influx of visitors after the relaxation of permit rules for residents in Shenzhen and five other mainland cities.
News of the cancellation came nine hours before he was due to fly to Vladivostok last night. It is the first time a chief executive has not attended the summit since the handover. Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah will take his place.
A government source said Leung decided to stay in the city to monitor developments in the growing crisis over the introduction of national education.
Since last Thursday, protesters have laid siege to the government headquarters in Admiralty. And the Federation of Students, a group of student unions at eight tertiary institutions, plans to boycott classes next Tuesday. Leung's decision came as Anna Wu Hung-yuk, head of the Committee on the Implementation of Moral and National Education, said the panel may consider options that included scrapping the subject.
A government source said Leung was also busy hammering out details of the "Hong Kong property for Hong Kong residents" scheme, which will impose bans on non-locals buying new homes at designated sites.
It was one of the 10 measures announced by Leung last Thursday to cool the property market.
Michael Choi Ngai-min, one of Leung's core housing advisers, said the scheme should be applied to one or two sites out of the six that will be sold by tender between October and December.
Meanwhile, Shenzhen authorities announced two weeks ago they would offer multiple-visit permits for Hong Kong to the city's 4.1 million non-permanent residents from last Saturday. Beijing, Tianjin , Shanghai, Chongqing and Guangzhou, also relaxed rules on single-entry permits to visit Hong Kong.
The changes angered Hongkongers concerned about the impact of mainland visitors on the city's infrastructure.
Leung announced on Friday no entry permits from any of the six cities would be issued in the next 21 days. The source said: "Announcements on both the property and permit schemes are likely in the next two days."
But one group was unhappy at Leung's decision not to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting.
The chief executive pledged on Tuesday he would convey the demands of survivors and relatives of victims of the Manila hostage crisis to Philippine President Benigno Aquino at the summit.
Lee Ying-chuen, a survivor of the bus siege, felt Leung had deceived them. "The situation in Hong Kong will not see any big changes in one day," she said.
"If he insists on not withdrawing the national education curriculum, then what is the point of him staying in Hong Kong?"