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HK leader says main responsibility for ending crisis lies with govt

Hong Kong

HONG Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Thursday she had to hold talks with the people no matter how difficult they may be, as she opened the first "open dialogue" session with the public in a bid to end nearly four months of sometimes violent protests.

The biggest responsibility for resolving the crisis in the Chinese-ruled city lies with the government, she said, as pro-democracy protesters chanted slogans outside.

"If we want to walk away from the difficulty and find a way out, the government has to take the biggest responsibility to do so," Ms Lam said at the colonial-era indoor Queen Elizabeth stadium.

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Outside, about 100 protesters chanted: "Hong Kong people, add oil," a slogan meaning: "Keep your strength up." They had formed a human chain outside the stadium and chanted slogans demanding that Ms Lam meet their demands, among them an independent investigation into allegations of excessive force by police and amnesty for the more than 1,500 protesters who have been arrested over the past three months.

Ms Lam was holding talks with 150 members of the community, with speakers each given around three minutes to express their views.

Security was tight around the venue in the commercial and night life district of Wan Chai, where some schools and businesses closed early ahead of the meeting.

"Deep wounds have been opened in our society. These will take time to heal," Ms Lam said in an opinion piece in The New York Times. "But it remains this government's hope that conversation will triumph over conflict and that through its actions, calm can be restored and trust can be rebuilt within the community."

Resident Poon Yau-lok, 62, was sceptical that the talks would make any difference. "They wouldn't listen when 200,000 people marched on the street. Why would they listen to just 150?" she told Reuters.

Many of the 70 people randomly chosen to ask questions among the 150 allowed inside were visibly emotional, and they did not mince words, at times ending their allotted three minutes by reciting a phrase often heard during raucous street protests: "Five demands, not one less."

They expressed anger over the detention of protesters, asked why the government had so far refused to appoint an independent panel to investigate allegations of police brutality, and one woman lobbed an insult at Ms Lam and demanded she resign.

"You may be a really smart official and I believe you are really tough but you are not fit to rule," the woman said, drawing hearty applause from the audience. REUTERS, NYT