Let's hope Lam olive branch takes root

Editorial | Mary Ma 21 Aug 2019

For the first time in many weeks, the past weekend passed without flying bricks, rubber bullets or tear gas.

While it's welcome, the question remains: are anti-government protests at a turning point after more than two months of weekend clashes - with "peaceful, rational and non-violent" demonstrations returning to take the lead?

State-owned media immediately gave the credit to paramilitary drills in Shenzhen, declaring that radicals were intimidated by the show of force. The self-serving proclamations are standard propaganda that did not paint the whole picture.

The rally by tens of thousands of people showed that those who want democracy are capable of making their demands in a peaceful manner at the same time.

And what were the catalysts for this return to the path of peace: one could be the military exercises just across the border; another could be the ugly airport incident in which two mainlanders were tied up and assaulted by protesters, with such scenes of extrajudicial punishment just unacceptable.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor mentioned a few things prior to the Executive Council meeting yesterday. She was conciliatory in tone overall - although again frustratingly stopped short of officially "withdrawing" the extradition bill.

For the ever-so-stubborn Lam, the barrier was too high for her to overcome.

Whether the conciliatory approach was a tactical maneuver to win over public opinion, a couple of points should be noted.

First, her administration will start paving the way for dialogue with all sectors of life, which can be difficult since the protesters don't have an apparent leadership structure. But somebody has to take the first step if the impasse is to be resolved.

As demonstrators took the move to act peacefully, it's clever of Lam to seize the chance to keep the momentum rolling. Will the interaction produce enough traction to lead to a dialogue and end the crisis? Let's hope so.

Second, while Lam again dismissed calls for the independent probe that is central to protesters' demands, she said for a first time the Independent Police Complaints Council inquiry will draw on foreign expertise - not only on fact-finding but also for recommendations on avoiding a recurrence of similar incidents.

In particular, the IPCC will seek assistance from British experts involved in probing the 2011 riots that broke out across London after police shot and killed a 29-year-old man in Tottenham.

The riots lasted five days, after which the government formed the Riots Communities and Victims Panel to look into the causes. One of its findings pointed to the local community's distrust of the police, which prompted the force to embark on a relationship-mending exercise.

It's ironic that Exco member Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who reportedly proposed the idea for the extradition bill to Lam, recently talked about the possibility of creating a "truth and reconciliation commission" and suggested, among other things, an amnesty list to Lam.

It seems that while "withdrawal" remains a taboo, the IPCC is expanding the scope of its probe.

It's essential not to allow the road to peace to be disrupted by incidents such as the attack on three young people by a chopper-wielding man in Tseung Kwan O, or the physical abuse of an elderly man by two cops at North District Hospital.

The crisis isn't over yet - not by a long shot.

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