Hong Kong’s leader vows to narrow rifts, but no specifics

Facing pressure to end months of anti-government protests, Hong Kong’s leader pledged on Tuesday to open up dialogue with city residents in an effort to narrow differences.

However, Chief Executive Carrie Lam offered no concessions to the protest movement and a key organiser of the mass rallies dismissed her plan to immediately set up a “communication platform”, underlining the challenge in resolving the semiautonomous Chinese city’s political crisis.

The movement held a massive but peaceful rally on Sunday after earlier protests had been marked by violence. The government has conditioned dialogue on the leaderless protest movement remaining peaceful.

Lam didn’t say that the communication platform will be used to specifically contact protesters. It will be used for “open and direct” dialogue with people from all walks of life, including people who have attended peaceful rallies, she told reporters, while giving few specifics on how it would work.

“Our goal is to work hard to resolve differences and conflicts, to understand each other through communication and to walk out of this social deadlock together,” Lam said.

Her comments fell short of the protesters’ five demands, which include genuine democracy and an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.

The protesters complain that police have contributed to the violence by responding to their aggressive tactics with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Members of the Civil Human Rights Front rejected her plan, calling it a trap that’s aimed at wasting time. The group’s vice-convenor, Wong Yik-mo, said Lam is “not responding at all” to the protest movement’s demands.

“We do not trust Carrie Lam, we do not trust her lies,” he said, pointing out that the movement’s decentralised structure would make it hard to conduct dialogue anyway.

“She is fully aware there is no leader, this is a leaderless movement. What does she suggest?” he said.

Jimmy Sham, another member, suggested that “if Lam wants dialogue, she should come to a protest.”

The Civil Human Rights Front has organised several mass anti-government rallies that have attracted huge crowds in recent months and it plans another at the end of the month. But many other groups have organised their own events.

Lam dismissed the protesters’ demand for an independent inquiry, saying the city’s police complaints council is capable of looking into police misconduct. The council is carrying out a fact-finding study of the protests and related incidents as it looks into 174 complaints about police behaviour, she said.

Protesters say that the complaints council has limited power to scrutinise the police.

Mo and Sham said the council has no credibility and its main function is merely to look into complaints. “It has no mandate to investigate and no power to summon policeman (to give evidence), especially when top brass are involved,” Mo said.

Separately, Twitter said late on Monday that it has suspended nearly 1,000 accounts it believes were behind a Chinese government influence campaign targeting the protest movement.

The social media company blocked about 200,000 more automated accounts that amplified the messages, engaging with the core accounts in the network. The accounts were attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong by undermining the protest movement’s legitimacy and political positions.

Facebook took similar action, but on a smaller scale. The social network removed seven pages, three groups and five accounts, including some portraying protesters as cockroaches and terrorists, after being tipped off by Twitter and conducting its own investigation.



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