Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam faces public in dialogue session

Carrie Lam has spoken with members of the Hong Kong public in a special dialogue session to resolve the city’s political unrest. The meeting comes after 17 straight weeks of sometimes violent anti-government protests.

Carrie Lam held her first dialogue with the Hong Kong public on Thursday as part of a city-wide consultation to resolve the city’s political turmoil.

Authorities said they chose 150 people to attend the two-hour meeting via a lottery drawn from more than 20,000 applicants.

X-ray machines and metal detectors were set up to ensure attendees did not bring banned items such as gas masks, helmets, banners and umbrellas.

Upon arrival, Lam was met with hundreds of protesters chanting slogans expressing their demands outside the Hong Kong Queen Elizabeth Stadium, where the session took place.

Crowds of black-clad protesters yelled: “Hong Kong people, add oil,” an expression meaning “keep your strength up.” Some demonstrators formed a human chain. Crowds of black-clad protesters chanted: “Hong Kong people, add oil,” an expression meaning “keep your strength up.”

In her opening remarks, Lam expressed to the public her hopes of bringing about change for the good of all Hong Kongers.

“This is not just a PR show but aimed to bring change,”  Lam said.

During the dialogue, speaker after speaker accused Lam’s administration of ignoring public needs and worsening the crisis.

“If we want to walk away from the difficulty and find a way out, the government has to take the biggest responsibility to do so,” Lam said.

The city has seen almost 17 weeks straight of sometimes violent anti-government protests.

In an op-ed Lam wrote for the New York Times on Wednesday, the leader said that the meeting will be the first of “many community dialogues to air the public’s grievances and identify the issues this society faces.” Lam said that the issues reflected in those dialogues will be “studied and translated into concrete actions.”

According to Lam, the dialogue forms part of a “necessary reconciliation process” to heal the city’s “deep wounds.” She intends to set out “bold initiatives” to solve “deep-seated problems.”

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Carrie Lam speaks to a crowd in an indoor stadium150 people were chosen to attend the two-hour meeting via a lottery draw from more than 20,000 applicants

Details of the meeting

The meeting took place in a British colonial-era indoor sports stadium in the Wan Chai area, not far from government headquarters.

Local media reported that police were kept to a minimum of 3,000 officers on standby, equipped with pepper spray, tear gas canisters and shields, and that nearby schools and stores closed early in case of unrest.

Lam currently holds the lowest approval ratings of any post-handover leader in Hong Kong.

The anti-government movement started out as a demonstration against an extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kongers to be sent to mainland China for trial, despite Hong Kong having an independent judiciary.

Lam later withdrew the extradition bill on September 4  but pro-democracy protesters continued to demand free elections as well as an independent inquiry into police accountability. Lam’s government and Beijing have repeatedly ruled out such requests.

Hong Kong protester clashes with policePolice secured the stadium where Lam will host the dialogue session in case of violent clashes

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‘Resilient’ and ‘resourceful’

The city leader wrote in the New York Times that Hong Kong has the resilience to conquer political discord.

“Hong Kong has faced — and overcome — momentous challenges every decade since the end of World War II … This should tell us something about the people of Hong Kong: They are resilient and resourceful.”

She added that the city was prepared to overcome economic challenges that might rise from the protests.

“Financial markets continue to operate smoothly … We have a stable currency; we continue to attract investment.”

Ranked as the most visited city in the world in 2018, Hong Kong has seen tourism drop to levels not seen since the 2003 SARS epidemic.