Two key U.S. senators called Sunday for a "de-escalation" of the one week standoff between the authorities in Hong Kong and pro-democracy protesters, saying "good faith" negotiations were key to breaking the stalemate over election reforms for the former British colony.
The call came as a Monday government deadline loomed for demonstrators to clear Hong Kong's streets with the semiautonomous Chinese territory's Beijing-backed Chief Executive C.Y. Leung claiming the mass protests occupying key areas risked "serious consequences" for public safety.
The protesters have demanded the right for the residents of Hong Kong to nominate who can run as the territory's next leader in 2017 elections while Beijing insists that only candidates it has screened will be able to participate in the polls.
"As democratically elected members of the United States Senate, we strongly support the Hong Kong people's aspiration for universal suffrage and full democracy," U.S. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Senator Roger Wicker said in a statement.
"We urge all parties to follow the path of restraint, de-escalation, and good faith dialogue in pursuit of that goal," said Leahy, the President pro tempore of the Senate, and Wicker, the Republican Deputy Whip.
Leahy, the most senior senator who is the third in the presidential line of succession, and Wicker also condemned the "violent attacks" against peaceful demonstrators in Hong Kong.
Two of Hong Kong's busiest shopping districts plunged into chaos on Friday as angry opponents clashed with protesters, tearing down their tents and barricades, amid allegations by pro-democracy crowds that triad criminal gangs backed by Beijing had been brought in stir up trouble.
On Saturday, fresh clashes occurred in Mong Kok, a densely packed working-class district of shops and apartments, with complaints of sexual assaults and attacks on journalists in the crowds.
'"We are dismayed that Hong Kong authorities have not taken necessary steps to protect peaceful protesters from these cowardly attacks by individuals who seek to deny their right of peaceful assembly," the senators said.
"The people of Hong Kong must be applauded and supported for their remarkable courage and determination in extraordinarily challenging circumstances."
The senators said the "Umbrella Movement" has shown the world the inspirational power of free expression in defense of the fundamental right to choose one's leaders.
Protesters had used umbrellas to deflect pepper spray and tear gas fired by police last Sunday when the government moved to disperse the crowd.
Reports on Sunday said student protesters occupying the area outside Hong Kong's government headquarters have agreed to remove some barricades that have blocked the building's entrance during the weeklong pro-democracy protests, the Associated Press reported.
Television footage from the scene showed a protest representative shaking hands with a police officer.
It was not immediately clear whether all the students had decided to withdraw from the scene, AP said. The move appeared to be part of a strategy to regroup in another part of town.
Reported by RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.