HONG KONG – Hong Kong students refused a meeting with the Chief Executive Carrie Lam, dealing her China-backed government another setback to its efforts to avert further mass protests.
Student leaders at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology said they refused an invitation for a closed-door meeting with Lam, saying they are not interested in private talks and will not sit down until she meets their demands.
The students, like several groups involved in recent protests, are seeking the complete withdrawal of legislation allowing extraditions to China and reforms allowing direct elections for the city’s top office.
Lam’s office confirmed that the chief executive was seeking meetings with “young people of different backgrounds” and urged the students to reconsider the decision. Such meetings would be “conducted in a small-scale and closed-door manner,” the office said.
Lam pledged to be more “open and inclusive” Monday as she started her third year in office facing the city’s worst political crisis since the former British colony returned to China in 1997. Hong Kong has been gripped by a series of escalating mass protests that started with Lam’s efforts to pass legislation allowing extraditions to China for the first time and expanded into demands for greater democracy.
A small group of protesters stormed and ransacked the local legislature later Monday — the 22nd anniversary of the handover — shocking the government’s supporters and critics alike and prompting warnings of worsening unrest. One problem facing Lam is that the protest movement has so far remained largely leaderless, making it harder to find someone she can negotiate with.
“We feel deeply disappointed to see the government invite for a conversation when the situation has come to this stage,” Pang Ka-ho, a student leader at the University of Hong Kong told a briefing Friday. “If the government could have had a sincere dialogue with young people before things deteriorated, it wouldn’t have come to this.”
The government is facing further protests this weekend, including a Sunday protest intending to spread their message to mainland tourists in the shopping areas of Kowloon.
Also on Friday, protester Pun Ho-chiu, 31, was arraigned on charges of assaulting police officers, causing criminal damage and behaving disorderly in public over his suspected role in a June 21 demonstration outside police headquarters. He didn’t enter a plea and was denied bail.
So far, no one has been charged with criminal offenses related to the storming of the Legislative Council on Monday. Police this week announced the arrest of 12 suspects, aged 14 to 36, on a range of offenses, including weapons possession and obstructing a police officer, in connection with another protest earlier that morning.