Hong Kong leader hopes town hall will be start of healing

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said yesterday she does not expect a town hall meeting this week will find answers to the months-long pro-democracy protests but hopes it will be a step forward in the “long journey” to reconciliation.

Lam said she is encouraged that over 20,000 people have signed up for tomorrow’s community dialogue, out of which only 150 will be selected randomly. It will be the first such meeting since the protests started in early June.

The leader is hoping to tone down emotions amid fears that violence could spike further with more protests planned this weekend.

The unrest was sparked by an extradition bill that has since been withdrawn, but protesters have widened their demands to include direct elections for the city’s leaders and police accountability.

Lam said there is no agenda for the town hall, which is meant as an open platform for the public to vent its complaints and find a way out of the conflict. She said the two-hour session will be considered a success if the dialogue is peaceful with a frank and candid exchange of views.

“It would not be possible for a consensus to be reached after all these tensions in society that we have seen,” Lam said at a news conference.

“To me, this is one step forward. It will be a long journey to achieve reconciliation in society, let alone to return to the more normal Hong Kong that we are all very familiar with.”

Security is expected to be tight at the town hall meeting, which will be held at a stadium in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai neighbourhood. Participants will be banned from bringing items including umbrellas, gas masks or helmets — tools used by protesters.

Lam acknowledged she and her colleagues might not be welcomed by the public. Last Sunday, police had to rescue Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip after an angry crowd surrounded his car as he was leaving a public event. “If our reaching out is a source of major tension, then we have to think twice whether we should do that,” Lam said.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam addresses the media during a press conference in Hong Kong. PHOTO: AFP