Hong Kong Protests Hang on Ahead of Formal Talks on Democracy

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Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong's Admiralty district, Oct. 7, 2014.
Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong's Admiralty district, Oct. 7, 2014.

Leaders of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and government officials have agreed to open formal talks on election reforms this week after 10 days of mass protests, which dwindled to a few thousand on Tuesday.

After several days of preparatory talks, the two sides announced they will begin negotiations on Friday.

But leaders of student groups which spearheaded the mass protests against Beijing's decision to restrict Hong Kong election reforms said they are disappointed that the government is not willing to address their core demands.

Joshua Wong, leader of the academic activist group Scholarism, called on protesters to stay on the streets in order to keep up pressure on the government for the right to nominate who can run as Hong Kong's next leader in 2017 elections.

Beijing insists that only candidates it has approved should stand in the polls.

Wong hit out at Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive C.Y. Leung for "not daring" to come and meet protesters in person.

"He just makes a video of himself every day, which is aired in the media," Wong said. "Is Leung Chun-ying our chief executive, or is he a newsreader?"

Call for support

Wong called on demonstrators to gather on Friday afternoon in Admiralty, where the government headquarters is located on Hong Kong Island, to support the students in their talks with officials.

Lester Shum, deputy head of the influential Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), said he was disappointed at the attitude of officials in a preparatory meeting on Tuesday.

The government wants the talks to focus on "the basis for political development and the legal implementations of these political reforms," Lau Kong-wah, the government's undersecretary of constitutional and mainland affairs, was quoted saying by Reuters news agency after the preparatory talks, referring to plans for the 2017 election of the Chief Executive.

Student leaders said the talks are expected to be limited in scope.

But Shum said students have decided to go ahead with the meeting with Leung's second-in-command Carrie Lam on Friday in a bid to force the government to face them directly.

"If they [government officials] do not try to face our demands or propose ways to solve the political problems directly, we may end the dialogue," Shum told reporters.

He said more protesters could once more take to the streets, where two key areas remain under occupation by demonstrators sleeping out in tents.

"People are ready to come out again if the government fails to demonstrate sincerity [in] solving the political crisis," he said, in comments reported by the South China Morning Post newspaper.

Any police action to clear existing protest sites could also result in an end to talks, he said.

Police threaten action

Across the harbor in Kowloon, thousands of people were gathered on a section of the busy Nathan Road shopping street in Mong Kok, scene of violent clashes between Occupy and anti-Occupy protesters on Friday.

Protesters were discussing where the movement should go next at a political forum held in a makeshift tent.

Police once more warned that they will take action in Mong Kok at an "appropriate time".

Chief police superintendent Steve Hui said Mong Kok had become a "high risk area," prone to clashes and emotional confrontations.

He said the ongoing protests were causing traffic congestion and "disturbing other people's lives."

A Mong Kok resident surnamed Lee agreed.

"It doesn't matter whether it's right or wrong any more," Lee said. "It's wrong to mess up the lives of local residents."

"Walking along the street, using public transportation, and going to work [are all affected]," he said. "The worst hassle has been the obstruction for older people and those with disabilities."

But he said he wanted to see a peaceful resolution.

"The best thing is for everyone to sit down and discuss things," Lee said.

However, a student protester in Mong Kok, also surnamed Lee, said she intends to stay.

"I don't think it would be good to expand it any further, but I think we should remain in occupation of our existing positions," she said.

"It's better to be in Mong Kok for educational reasons; most of the people here are regular working people," Lee said.

No change seen

Hong Kong and Beijing officials have repeatedly warned there will be no change to an Aug. 31 decision from China's rubber stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), ruling out the public nomination of candidates.

Under current plans, candidates in the 2017 election for Leung's successor must be selected by a 1,200-strong pro-Beijing committee, although all five million of Hong Kong's voters will be able to cast their ballot to choose among them.

NPC delegate Rita Fan said on Tuesday there is little chance the NPC will change the framework it has decided on, in spite of calls for a new framework from the Occupy movement.

She said changes to the framework can only be made if there are "compelling new arguments" over electoral reform or "substantial changes" in Hong Kong.

Wang Juntao, a former leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, said some form of protest would likely continue if the government sticks to its current position.

"It's the same the whole world over," Wang said. "The people who are in the movement will hang on in the face of government oppression or use of force, to keep the territory they have gained."

"If the government just drags their feet, the people will immediately come back onto the streets again," he said.

Reported by Wei Ling, Wen Yuqing, and Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan and Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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