HONG KONG • Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam said yesterday that she and her team would begin dialogues with the community next week, while reiterating that violence that has roiled the city over three months of protests must end.
Mrs Lam said the dialogues would be as open as possible, with members of the public able to sign up to attend. "Hong Kong society has really accumulated a lot of deep-rooted economic, social and even political issues, I hope these different forms of dialogue can provide a platform for us to discuss," she told reporters at a briefing before the weekly Executive Council meeting.
She said the issues included housing and land shortages in one of the world's most densely populated cities of 7.4 million. Young people are particularly frustrated by the high cost of finding a place of their own to live.
Mrs Lam said the dialogues would be helpful as the government is going into a new style of governance that is more open and more people-oriented. "I can assure you that this is not a one-off gimmick type (of dialogue). It is intended to be organised on a very sustainable, and perhaps, long-term basis," she added.
Next week's session would be able to accommodate up to 200 people and it would be open to the media, Mrs Lam told reporters. "But I have to stress here, a dialogue platform doesn't mean we don't have to take resolute enforcement actions. Suppressing the violence in front of us is still the priority," she said.
The former British colony has been roiled by nearly four months of sometimes violent protests. The unrest was sparked by a Bill - now withdrawn - that would have allowed people to be sent from Hong Kong to mainland China for trial. But the protesters' demands have broadened to include an independent inquiry into their complaints of excessive force by the police, and universal suffrage.
Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" framework that guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including a much-cherished independent legal system. But many residents say they are seeing creeping interference by Beijing in Hong Kong's affairs despite the promise of autonomy.
Mrs Lam on Sept 4 promised the formal withdrawal of the extradition Bill. But some said that was too little, too late, and the protests have continued.
On Monday, police said 89 people were arrested over the weekend where radical protesters hurled petrol bombs and bricks. Fights also broke out between anti-government protesters and others who support Beijing. Nearly 1,500 people have been arrested since the protests escalated in June.