Over 1,000 people protested outside the venue for Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s first public dialogue session on Thursday.
The two-hour town hall meeting at Queen Elizabeth Stadium marks the first such session between Lam and residents since mass protests erupted in June. 150 Hongkongers were selected to join via a lucky draw, though around 20,000 had originally applied to attend.
Lam has responded to one of protesters’ five main demands by promising to officially withdraw the controversial extradition bill, but has said she cannot agree to the four other demands. Demonstrators are still demanding a fully independent probe into police behaviour, amnesty for those arrested, universal suffrage and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.”
She admitted earlier this week that it would not be possible for a consensus to be reached during the dialogue.
Siri, a form four student from Hotung Secondary School, showed up outside the venue in her school uniform, a white baseball cap and a mask. She said the dialogue was intended to reduce public anger, but she found the idea to be meaningless.
“We have seen a lot of problems in the past few months, especially the problem of police [brutality],” she said. “[Lam] hasn’t listened to many opinions… There are only 150 people inside. Why didn’t she ask the 1,500 people who were arrested – ask them: why did they protest?”
Vincent, a public relations officer at a semi-government organisation, arrived at the protest after work.
“I want to be here to point out how ridiculous this dialogue is,” he said. “I can’t even stand to watch the livestream, just like many people.”
He said he believed that the dialogue was just “a piece of homework” that Lam wanted to do to show Beijing: “Everyone who knows Hong Kong’s situation knows this dialogue would not be effective.”
He said that people felt the dialogue was irrelevant and thus did not show up in force to protest: “Although they were very angry, they did not feel this dialogue for them, and the timing was wrong,” he said.
Protesters chanted “five demands, not one less” outside the venue throughout the televised session.
Ahead of the dialogue session, Lam wrote a New York Times op-ed titled “Yes, Hong Kong does have a future.”
“For the time being, however, I am in listening mode for my first community dialogue session. No doubt, I will receive some harsh criticism. But I also hope to receive constructive suggestions to help this government meet the public’s expectations for a more inclusive and fairer Hong Kong,” she wrote.
Thursday’s dialogue took place amid heavy security.
In the afternoon before protesters arrived, police special tactical unit officers – commonly known as “raptors” – were seen entering the stadium armed with pepper ball rifles. Police also moved tear gas canisters, tear spray, rubber bullets and shields into the stadium.
Several schools in the areas told students they could go home earlier than usual, before the dialogue session began.
A group of students from six nearby secondary schools formed a human chain outside the venue asking Carrie Lam to fulfil protesters’ main demands.
Another group of students raised a banner that read “conscience” on a footbridge nearby.
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