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HK leader Lam hopes non-violent protest signals road to peace

Hong Kong

HONG Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that she hoped a peaceful weekend anti-government protest was the start of an effort to restore peace and that the government would talk to peaceful protesters and tackle complaints against police.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied peacefully in the Chinese-ruled city in torrential rain on Sunday in the eleventh week of what have been often violent demonstrations.

"I have explained and elaborated on two important areas of work that we are doing," Mrs Lam told reporters. "One is an important fact-finding study in addition to a very robust system to investigate and look at the complaints against police over this prolonged period of confrontations and violence."

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Anger erupted in June over a now-suspended bill that would allow criminal suspects in the former British colony to be extradited to mainland China.

But the unrest has been fuelled by broader worries about the erosion of freedoms guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" formula put in place after Hong Kong's return to China in 1997, including an independent judiciary and the right to protest.

Further protests are planned in the next few days, including one by MTR subway workers on Wednesday, secondary school students protesting against the extradition bill on Thursday and a demonstration by accountants on Friday.

The chaos has since spread overseas. Twitter and Facebook both said on Monday they had dismantled a social media campaign originating in mainland China that sought to undermine protests in the territory.

Sunday's massive turnout, which organisers put at 1.7 million, showed that the movement still has widespread support despite chaotic scenes last week when protesters occupied the airport.

Aside from Mrs Lam's resignation, demonstrators have five demands - the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, a halt to descriptions of the protests as "rioting", a waiver of charges against those arrested, an independent inquiry and resumption of political reform.

"The second question I have repeatedly replied on various locations and I can give you this very clear commitment at the political level that the bill is dead," Mrs Lam said. "There is no plan to revive the bill, especially in light of the public concerns."

She also said the police watchdog has set up a task force to investigate complaints.

China has put strong pressure on big companies, especially Cathay Pacific Airways. Its CEO Rupert Hogg quit in a shock move last week after Beijing targeted the airline over staff involvement in the protests.

His sudden departure was announced by Chinese state television last Friday and was seen as a signal to other multinationals, such as HSBC Holdings and Jardine Matheson Holdings, to support Beijing. Cathay also fired two pilots for taking part in the protests. REUTERS