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HK leader Carrie Lam says police under extreme pressure

Hong Kong

HONG KONG leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday the city's police force, which has been accused of beating activists and using excessive force during protests, is under extreme pressure and acknowledged it will be a "long road" towards healing rifts.

She also called on protesters not to disrupt her first public dialogue event, as she attempted to quiet months of protests that threaten to mar Beijing's anniversary celebrations.

Mrs Lam said it was "quite remarkable" there had not been fatalities during three months of protests, and she hoped dialogue would help resolve the political crisis gripping the Asian financial centre.

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Police cast doubt over allegations that officers beat a man during a protest on Saturday, while Amnesty International called on the government to investigate police use of force against demonstrators.

Police acting senior superintendent Vasco Williams told reporters on Monday that footage of the alleged incident appeared to show an "officer kicking a yellow object", not a man, in an alley.

He conceded that the incident needed to be investigated, although he ruled out police "malpractice" and added that the video could have been "doctored".

What started as protests over a now-shelved extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial have evolved into broader calls for greater democracy and an independent inquiry into police actions.

Demonstrators are frustrated at what they see as Beijing's tightening grip over the former British colony, which returned to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula intended to guarantee freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.

China has said it is committed to the arrangement and denies interfering.

Mrs Lam said that, while she supported the police to safeguard the rule of law, "that doesn't mean that I would condone irregularities or wrong practices done by the police force".

"I know the level of mutual trust is now relatively low in Hong Kong, but we have to make sure that we can continue to operate as a civil society," she told reporters.

Mrs Lam was speaking after Amnesty called for an investigation into police actions and urged the Hong Kong government to encourage Beijing to safeguard protesters' right to peaceful assembly.

"Ordering an independent and effective investigation into police actions would be a vital first step," Joshua Rosenzweig, head of Amnesty's East Asia regional office, said in a report.

"Authorities need to show they are willing to protect human rights in Hong Kong, even if this means pushing back against Beijing's 'red line'." REUTERS, BLOOMBERG