Hong Kong leader starts dialogue with pro- democracy advocates but not budging on demands
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Tuesday that she had met with a group of young people about the pro-democracy protests gripping the city, but she showed no sign of budging in a continuing stalemate over the movement’s demands.
Lam said she explained the government’s position on the demands at the Monday meeting, which was closed-door and unannounced. She disputed complaints that her government is ignoring the protesters, whose demands include the withdrawal of an extradition bill, an independent inquiry into what they believe is excessive use of force by police to quell the demonstrations, and democratic elections.
“It is not a question of not responding,” she told reporters before a weekly meeting with her executive council. “It is a question of not accepting those demands.”
Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory, has seen more than two months of youth-led protests that have often ended in clashes with police. More than 80 people were arrested last weekend after protesters occupied city streets. They built barriers across the roads and threw bricks and gasoline bombs to try to block the police advance.
Lam announced last week that she is creating a platform for dialogue and said Tuesday that it would include protesters. Opposition lawmakers have questioned the sincerity of her initiative, calling it a delay tactic.
It wasn’t clear who attended the Monday meeting with Lam, who was accompanied by the education and home affairs ministers. The South China Morning Post newspaper, citing an unnamed source, said about 20 people took part and that they were mostly in their 20s and 30s.
Lam said that her government had accepted the movement’s main demand by suspending the extradition bill, but protesters want it formally withdrawn. Not all the protesters resort to confrontation with police, but those that do say it is needed to get the government to respond.
Lam said it would be unacceptable for the government to accede to demands because of such pressure.
“If violence continues, the only thing that we should do is to stamp out that violence through law enforcement actions,” she said.
She also dismissed any suggestion of her resignation, saying a responsible chief executive should continue “to hold the fort and do her utmost to restore law and order in Hong Kong.”
The leaders of the G-7 nations, meeting in France, called Monday for the avoidance of violence in Hong Kong and affirmed the importance of a 1984 Sino-British agreement that gives the city a high degree of autonomy in its affairs. The former British colony was returned to China in 1997, but many Hong Kongers say the promises made to them are being eroded by Beijing.
“We expressed, collectively, deep concern about what is happening in Hong Kong,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, adding that “we remain collectively committed to the ‘one country, two systems’ framework.”
(The story has been published from a wire feed without any modifications to the text, only the headline has been changed)