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Students reject meeting with Hong Kong chief executive

By NATALIE LUNG AND STEPHEN TAN | Bloomberg | Published: July 5, 2019

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 weren't interested in private talks and wouldn't sit down until she met 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 in an emailed response to Bloomberg.

Hong Kong's No. 2 official, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, said Friday night that the government wants to start a sincere dialogue with students, following a meeting with opposition lawmakers. But pan-democratic politician Claudia Mo said authorities' call for a conversation was hypocritical, given they had recently arrested some student protesters.

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's return to China. 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, ages 14 to 36, on a range of offenses, including weapons possession and obstructing a police officer, in connection with another protest earlier that morning.

Bloomberg's Kari Lindberg, Dominic Lau, Carol Zhong, Karen Leigh and Derek Wallbank contributed to this report.

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