Town hall meetings put on hold, Lam says
Colleen Lee and Johnny Tam
The government has suspended town hall-style visits, saying it wants to avoid any possible conflicts in the run-up to September's Legislative Council elections.
The move came as the third weekend of town hall meetings was dogged by more mayhem, with demonstrations by various factions and constant scuffles between protesters and police.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said yesterday that candidates might use such meetings to gain publicity.
The nomination period for the elections opens on Wednesday and electoral-related activities will also kick off soon.
But she and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying vowed to continue to reach out to the public as they completed the first round of district visits.
Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim and Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung had to cut short their session in Yuen Long as some participants began shouting slogans about the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, provoking scuffles in the audience.
It was the second of the 18 district visits that had to be abandoned.
The other was in Tuen Mun on July 2 when Leung was forced to make a hasty retreat under police escort after activists stormed his meet-the-public session.
Yesterday, addressing residents in Lai Chi Kok Community Hall, Leung said: 'We need to listen to views face to face and feel the pulse of the community ... We will continue to use this way, or combine it with other ways to listen to opinions.'
His remarks came despite an earlier call from New People's Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee for him to stop the visits in view of the chaos and criticism from pan-democrats that the town hall sessions were just a 'political show'.
Outside Lai Chi Kok Community Hall, Leung's arrival and departure were marred by scuffles and noisy protests. People Power said one of its volunteers had been beaten up just before Leung arrived and had to be taken to hospital. Police later said a man had been arrested for assault.
As soon as Leung walked into the venue, League of Social Democrats lawmaker 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung, donning a Leung Chun-ying mask with an extended Pinocchio-style nose, stood on a chair to demand he step down and explain the unauthorised structures at his home.
This was greeted by boos from the audience and one resident tried to pull the pan-democrat from the chair.
The lawmaker was then forcibly removed by security guards.
As the chief executive left, dozens of protesters chased his car, which was surrounded by police officers until it left Sham Shing Road.
Speaking at the Princess Alexandra Community Centre in Tsuen Wan, Lam said the government would continue to gauge public opinion to better formulate policies despite the protests.
'Although on TV it seems quite chaotic ... it would be pitiful if we fear these challenges and give up opportunities to talk to the public directly,' she said.