World

HK leader in dialogue to ease tensions

By AAP Newswire

Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, says she and her team will begin dialogue sessions with the community next week, while reiterating that violence that has roiled the city over three months of protests must end.

Lam, who is under pressure from Beijing to defuse the public anger stirring the protests, said the dialogue sessions will 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," Lam told reporters at a weekly briefing on Tuesday.

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.

"But I have to stress here, 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British colony has witnessed nearly four months of sometimes violent protests, triggered by an extradition bill, now withdrawn, that would have allowed people to be sent from Hong Kong to mainland China for trial.

But the demonstrators' demands have broadened to include universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into their complaints of excessive force by the police.

Tanya Chan, a pro-democracy legislator, said in Geneva on Tuesday that Lam's overture was a "political gesture".

"I don't see any kind of meaningful reasons to have dialogue with Mrs. Carrie Lam. All our demands are so clear from the very beginning and she knows this very well," Chan told a news conference.

"If she keeps on telling us (there will be) no commission of inquiry, no universal suffrage, then I think that is the end of it. So it's not fruitful to meet her at all," she said.

Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland - including a much-cherished independent legal system.

But many residents complain about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in Hong Kong's affairs despite the promise of autonomy.

Lam, who has been a focus of protesters' anger, capitulated to one of their main demands on September 4, announcing the full withdrawal of the extradition bill.

But some said that was too little, too late, and the protests have continued.

China says it is committed to "one country, two systems" and it denies meddling in Hong Kong while stressing it is an internal Chinese issue.

Beijing has accused foreign powers, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting the unrest.