HONG Kong: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday she had met with a group of young people about ongoing pro-democracy protests, but she showed no sign of budging on any of the protesters’ demands.
Lam said she explained the government’s position on the five demands of the protest movement at the Monday meeting, which was closed-door and unannounced. She disputed criticism that her government is ignoring the protesters, whose demands include democratic elections, the dropping of charges against arrested protesters and an independent inquiry into what they believe is excessive use of force by police to quell the demonstrations.
“It is not a question of not responding,” she said. “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 this past 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 said she and two senior officials also participated in a civil dialogue platform on Monday and listened to opinions of young people.
Responding to aggravated violence during the weekend, including assaulting police officers with petrol bombs and rampantly vandalizing stores, Lam reiterated zero-tolerance and said the police would conduct thorough investigation into all unlawful acts, adding that the violent protesters had completely disregarded laws and created panic among Hong Kong residents.
The authorities would treat all people involved in illegal and violent acts equally without discrimination, no matter what political views or backgrounds they have, Lam said.
She said the government would review existing laws and end violence with the rule of law, and called on all residents to support the police in cracking down on violence.
In regard to protesters destroying smart lamp posts, Lam said she and people that support Hong Kong’s innovation and technology felt heartbroken, as the efforts to foster a better environment for innovation and create diverse job opportunities for young people were ruined by violent protesters.
“I would like to emphasize again that violence cannot solve problems, and should not be rationalized or glorified,” Lam said.
Lam announced last week that she was 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.
The Education and Home Affairs ministers also took part in Monday’s meeting. 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 dismissed any suggestion of her resignation, telling reporters Tuesday that a responsible chief executive should continue “to hold the fort and do her utmost to restore law and order in Hong Kong.”
Meanwhile, G7 leaders said they back Hong Kong’s autonomy as laid out in a 1984 agreement between Britain and China and called for calm in the protest-hit city.
“The G7 reaffirms the existence and the importance of the 1984 Sino-British agreement on Hong Kong and calls for avoiding violence,” according to a joint statement issued in French at the end of a G7 summit in Biarritz, southwest France.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and France had all voiced “deep concern” about the situation in Hong Kong.
“The G7 nations all want to support a stable and prosperous Hong Kong and we remain collectively committed to the one-country, two-systems framework,” he said.
Hong Kong has been wracked by more than two months of protests over an attempt by its Beijing-backed government to pass an extradition bill which opponents saw as a huge dent in Hong Kong’s autonomy.
They have since morphed into a call for greater democracy and police accountability, with youths at the forefront of demonstrations that have at times descended into clashes with security forces.
On Monday, police used water cannons to repel what they termed “extremely violent” demonstrators, following another weekend of clashes at pro-democracy rallies.
Twenty-one officers were injured during the clashes, Hong Kong police said, while dozens of protesters — including a 12-year-old — were arrested for unlawful assembly, possession of weapons and assaulting police.