A chastened Carrie Lam admitted on Thursday that her administration is largely to blame for the months of unrest that have embroiled the city, but gave no concrete concessions as she held the first of a series of public meetings aimed at “finding a way out” of the current impasse.

She announced that a controversial police detention centre near the mainland border where dozens of protesters were taken to last month before they had to be sent to hospital, would no longer be used, but again rejected one of the protest movement’s central demands to establish an independent commission of inquiry into the policing of the protests.

Speaking along with a handful of ministers to a group of 130 randomly-selected Hong Kong people at Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai, Lam admitted to her own personal failings as Chief Executive, saying she had failed to uphold her campaign slogan of ‘We Connect’, by not listening to peoples’ views.

She said it’s understandable that people may doubt the government’s sincerity, as both her personal reputation, and that of the government’s, has taken a battering over the past few months.

She said “the point of this dialogue is not just to talk. It’s not a PR show. It’s to seek change. And the purpose in seeking change is to make the Hong Kong that we all love so much, better.”

“Maybe change takes time”, Lam said, “but we need to start.”

Many of the speakers – who were given three minutes to address their concerns after being chosen by paper ballot – were concerned about alleged abuses by police officers.

Some spoke of their fear in just going out, citing the threats posed by the police use of water cannons, tear gas, and pepper spray.

Others accused officers of standing by and doing nothing as innocent people were attacked by white-shirted mobs in Yuen Long in July.

One man accused officers who hold regular press briefings of lying to the public by making ‘outrageous’ claims in defense of alleged police violence.

Many agreed that a truly independent commission of inquiry was needed to probe how law enforcement had treated protesters during the months of demonstrations.

But Lam stood firm, and again shot down this demand.

“I’m not against finding out the truth”, she said. “The only difference between us is how do we get to the truth? A commission of inquiry is one way, and the established, independent mechanism of the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) is another way,” she added.

Lam added that the rule of law is a core value of Hong Kong, and everyone – whether they are officials, police, or members of the public – will be treated the same way.

“The rule of law means it’s not just members of the public that need to abide by the law, law enforcement agencies, in enforcing the law, must also abide by all laws and regulations. So when I support our law enforcement agencies in doing their jobs, this doesn’t mean I will allow them to flout regulations, or flout the law”, Lam said.

Addressing concerns over the alleged mistreatment of suspects who were taken to San Uk Ling Holding Centre in Sheung Shui last month, Lam said senior police officials have said that facility is no longer in use. She said they explained that the facility is not regularly used as a place to hold suspects, but police were pressed into on August 11 using it because of the large numbers of people arrested.

She said while there may well have been some ‘procedural chaos’ there because of the large crowds on that day, further allegations of abuse need to be looked at by the IPCC, which is currently undertaking a fact-finding mission of the months-long protests.

Dozens of people who were taken to the facility ended up in hospital, with many suffering broken bones, and leading to persistent questions over how they were treated there.

She noted that the IPCC has appointed a number of independent overseas experts to assist them in their ongoing probe into the protests, and appealed on the public to give them enough time to do their jobs, and compile a report before passing judgement.

The Chief Executive also again ruled out granting amnesty to the more than 1,500 people who have been arrested so far in connection with the protests.

Lam also said so long as Hong Kong ‘properly’ implements the One Country, Two Systems principle, the city “has a future.”

She said despite the blow to its international standing in recent months, Hong Kong still has many advantages, and if people can start working together, the city can restore its international status.

Several people spoke in support of the government. One woman asked Lam to set up a probe into whether lawmakers, teachers or social workers are inciting young people to protest. She added that the government should do a better job in regulating journalists, saying RTHK in particular needs to be reined in. “They’re not doing what an official broadcaster should do”, she complained.

Another woman suggested the government should restart its drive to beef up national education, saying young people need to be better educated about Chinese history.

After Lam repeatedly spoke of the need for her to directly engage with the public to better find out what they think, a young man suggested that she could save a lot of time and money – not to mention the hundreds of police on standby – just by going on the popular LIHKG forum that’s often used by protesters and their supporters.

“If you want to know what young people are thinking, just download the LIHKG app on your phone”, he said.

The 26 year-old, wearing a suit and tie, said he had 3,000 responses on the forum after putting up a post telling people that he had been chosen to attend Thursday’s dialogue session.

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Last updated: 2019-09-26 HKT 20:55