Hong Kong’s leader to open public dialog next week

KONFRONTASI - Hong Kong’s leader says she will open direct dialog with protesters next week in an attempt to address social discontent, following some three months of unrest in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that she would engage directly with her governing team in a public dialog with the protesters, adding that the first session of the talks would be held next week.

She also said that the sessions would be as open as possible, with members of the public being able to sign up to attend.

Since June, Hong Kong has been beset by unrest over a contentious extradition bill that would have allowed the extradition of suspects to mainland courts for trial. Critics alleged that the bill would have undermined Hong Kong’s legal freedoms.

Although the government fully dropped that bill on September 4, protests persisted, with individuals resorting to public violence by vandalizing government buildings and attacking police with bricks and Molotov cocktails.

Some of the anti-government protesters have also called on Lam to resign.

“The problems go well beyond the bill,” Lam admitted in her Tuesday remarks, pointing to other problems such as housing and land shortages in one of the world’s most densely populated cities.

Lam has been calling for dialog almost all along. Still, some protesters now say her pledge to hold direct dialog is too little and too late.

Violent clashes took place between protesters and riot police over the weekend, partly fueled by anger toward perceived police brutality and abuse of power.

China says foreign countries, mainly the United States and Britain, have been provoking the protesters by issuing statements of support. Beijing has asked the two countries to stop meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs.

Hong Kong has been governed under a “one-country, two-system” model since the city — a former British colony — was returned to China in 1997.[ptv]