Police secure stadium ahead of Hong Kong leader's town hall

Journalists gather outside the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. Riot police on Thursday begun securing a stadium in downtown Hong Kong ahead of a town hall session by embattled city leader Carrie Lam, aimed at cooling down months of protests for greater democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Protesters hold a placard which reads "Recover Hong Kong, an era's revolution" as they form a human chain outside the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. Riot police on Thursday begun securing a stadium in downtown Hong Kong ahead of a town hall session by embattled city leader Carrie Lam, aimed at cooling down months of protests for greater democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Students hold placards as they arrive to form a human chain outside the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. Riot police on Thursday begun securing a stadium in downtown Hong Kong ahead of a town hall session by embattled city leader Carrie Lam, aimed at cooling down months of protests for greater democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. A placard, right, reads "Recover Hong Kong, an era's revolution." (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Demonstrators holding a placard that reads "Recover Hong Kong, an era's revolution" stage a protest outside the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. Riot police on Thursday begun securing a stadium in downtown Hong Kong ahead of a town hall session by embattled city leader Carrie Lam, aimed at cooling down months of protests for greater democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2019, file photo, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks to reporters' during a press conference at the government building in Hong Kong. Riot police have begun securing a stadium in downtown Hong Kong ahead of a town hall session by city leader Carrie Lam aimed at cooling down months of protests for greater democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
Students hold hands to form a human chain at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. Riot police on Thursday begun securing a stadium in downtown Hong Kong ahead of a town hall session by embattled city leader Carrie Lam, aimed at cooling down months of protests for greater democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

HONG KONG — Riot police on Thursday secured a stadium in downtown Hong Kong for a town hall session by embattled city leader Carrie Lam aimed at cooling down months of protests for greater democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

The community dialogue with 150 participants, selected randomly from over 20,000 applicants, is the first since massive protests began in June sparked by an extradition bill that the government has now promised to withdraw.

Protesters have refused to stop demonstrating until other demands including direct elections for the city's leaders and police accountability are met.

Riot police carried equipment including shields, pepper spray and tear gas canisters into Queen Elizabeth Stadium in the Wan Chai area. Authorities also set up X-ray machines and metal detectors to ensure participants do not bring banned items inside such as umbrellas, helmets and gas masks — gear used by protesters.

The security measures came as hundreds of students and others formed human chains at roads near the stadium, chanting slogans to push their demands.

Lam in a post on Facebook voiced hope that the two-hour dialogue will help bring change for a better Hong Kong. The session, to be broadcast live, is the first in a series of dialogues toward reconciliation, she said.

"Regardless what your positions and opinions are, I believe that we all have a common goal, for the good of Hong Kong," she said, adding that people's voices will be considered in shaping government policies.

Critics call the community dialogue a political show to appease protesters ahead of major rallies planned this weekend ahead of China's National Day celebrations on Oct. 1.

The protests have turned increasingly violent in recent weeks as demonstrators lobbed gasoline bombs at government buildings, vandalized public facilities and set street fires, prompting police to respond with tear gas and water cannons. More than 1,500 people, including children as young as 12, have been detained.

The extradition bill, which would have allowed some criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial, is viewed by many as an example of growing Chinese interference in the city's autonomy under the "one country, two systems" framework introduced when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Many protesters say the dialogue is meaningless if the government refuses to accept their remaining demands. Lam has rejected those demands but said she hopes the dialogue will let people vent their frustrations and help identify societal problems to create more inclusive policies.

"To Hong Kong people, it's a joke," said Bonnie Leung of the Civil Human Rights Front, which has organized several massive rallies. "If she really wants to communicate with Hong Kong people, all she has to do is to open her door, we are right outside."

The Front earlier Thursday received police approval for a rally on Saturday and has applied for another major march on Oct. 1. Police banned the last two rallies planned by the group, but protesters turned up anyway and the peaceful gatherings later degenerated into chaos.

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