By Agence France-Presse
HONG KONG, China – Hong Kong’s embattled leader said Tuesday more than 20,000 people have applied to take part in a dialogue session with her and “vent their anger” at the government after three months of huge pro-democracy protests.
It is the government’s first attempt to reach out to the protestors since millions took to the streets in the biggest challenge to China’s rule since the city’s handover from Britain in 1997.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Thursday’s meeting would be an opportunity for people to have their voices heard but some protesters said they were not interested as their demands are already clear.
“We have promised that participants from different background, with different political stands, could express their opinions freely, even vent their anger,” Lam said.
While thousands have applied, just 150 people will be chosen at random to attend the two-hour session with Lam, and protest equipment such as umbrellas, helmets and gas masks will not be allowed.
“I hope the community dialogue could be held in a peaceful, rational and calm environment,” Lam said.
Hong Kong has entered the 17th week of political unrest which seen hundreds of rallies, some of which ended in violent clashes between police and protestors.
More than 1,500 people have been arrested, the youngest aged 12.
Lam said she felt “heart-ache” seeing children being arrested and asked, “how well can children understand the current political issues?”
“Here I need to urge parents, teachers and principals must let children know that political problems are not that simple,” Lam added.
Her remarks drew criticism from opposition legislators.
“You never under-estimate the young’s voice,” pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said.
“Many young people these days are very mature-minded and they knew perfectly what they are thinking… and what a civilized society should be.”
The protests were initially against a bill that would have allowed extradition to China, but have snowballed into wider calls for democracy and police accountability in the semi-autonomous city.
Video emerged over the weekend of officers kicking a detained man wearing a yellow shirt in an alley.
At a press conference, Monday a senior police officer suggested it was not clear the “yellow object” was a man and claimed the video might have been doctored, sparking ridicule online.
Higher-resolution footage of the same incident shows a man on the ground, surrounded by police, one of whom kicked him.
Police have repeatedly denied using excessive force and Lam insisted they had exercised restraint.
“The fact that over three months, we have not seen major fatalities in Hong Kong, by world standard … it is quite remarkable,” Lam said.