Hong Kong's top politician Carrie Lam told local residents on Thursday that her government has the biggest responsibility to end protests that have crippled the administrative region.
Lam was speaking just before taking questions from 30 citizens selected by lottery from 130 attendees at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong. It marked the first of a series of heavily-controlled public sessions to determine how the city can end weeks of protest, restore peace and address protester concerns.
Public unrest in Hong Kong is in its 17th week. It began with the aim to oppose the introduction of powers which could have seen Hong Kong authorities extradite fugitives to mainland China.
There has been a clamor for Lam's resignation over the handling of the protests since she claimed to have proposed the controversial bill.
Aside from requesting the withdrawal of the extradition bill, the protesters also want an independent probe into the use of force by police; amnesty for arrested protesters; no more categorizing the protests as riots; and the right of almost all adults to vote in political elections.
"The whole storm was caused by the extradition bill initiated by the government," Lam told her audience in an opening speech.
"If we want to walk away from the difficulty and find a way out, the government has to take the biggest responsibility to do so," she added.
The dialogue was generally calm although a small crowd in the stadium was heard shouting "Five demands, not one less" – a reference to protester demands — as Lam left the stage.
The Q&A session, which overran its scheduled time to allow for a fourth round of questions, heard people ask Lam for answers on why no government official had been held responsible for allowing the violence to continue and what practical measures authorities were now proposing.
An unnamed grade 12 student told Lam why young protesters had taken to the street.
"I didn't want to join the protest, I wanted a happy summer. But looking at Hong Kong now, I know I'm the next generation, if I don't stand up then I will be living in this era where you will be beaten by police because of your political view," the student said. "No one incited us to protest, we decided to join the protest, because we are afraid."
Members of the group also told Lam that the government should tackle property issues as its priority and "One Country, Two Systems" should be implemented in the way it was promised.
Under the system, Beijing authorities in mainland China handle defense and foreign affairs and promises to leave Hong Kong to manage local issues.
Lam told audience members that Hong Kong has a future "as long as 'One Country, Two Systems' can be implemented accurately."
On accusations of police brutality against protesters, Lam said she supported the police as law enforcement but that didn't mean she would allow them to act outside of the law
Some schools, shops, clinics, and swimming pools near the stadium closed early on Wednesday and police closed roads to accommodate the session.