Hong Kong leader starts dialogue, but not budging on demands

AP , Tuesday 27 Aug 2019

A lone pro-government supporter waves a China flag near Central in Hong Kong (AFP)
A lone pro-government supporter waves a China flag near Central in Hong Kong (AFP)

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 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 at 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 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, who used tear gas to drive them away.

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 and the education and home affairs ministers. The South China Morning Post newspaper, citing an unidentified source, said about 20 people took part and that they were mostly in their 20s and 30s.

Lam said her government had accepted the movement's main demand by suspending the extradition bill, which would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China to face trial. She has declared the legislation dead, but protesters are demanding its formal withdrawal.

The proposal fueled concern that China is chipping away at the separate legal system and rights that semiautonomous Hong Kong has under a "one country, two systems'' framework. Huge marches against the legislation have drawn more than a million people, according to organizer estimates.

Protesters have also disrupted subways and the airport, surrounded and spray-painted slogans on police stations and broken into and vandalized the legislative chamber. Not all of the protesters resort to confrontation, but those that do say it is needed because the government is not responding to peaceful demonstrations.

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 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.''

China said it strongly deplores a statement by the leaders of the G-7 nations, who called for the avoidance of violence in Hong Kong and affirmed the importance of a 1984 Sino-British agreement that gave the city its semiautonomous status. The former British colony was returned to China in 1997.

"We expressed, collectively, deep concern about what is happening in Hong Kong,'' British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said after the G-7 meeting in France. He added that "we remain collectively committed to the `one country, two systems' framework.''

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in Beijing that no foreign government has the right to intervene in Hong Kong, which he called an internal Chinese issue. "We urge the members of the G-7 countries not to meddle in other's affairs,'' he said.

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