Organizing groups behind Hong Kong's Occupy Central pro-democracy protests have called off a planned referendum on how the five-week-old movement should proceed, amid warnings that those who defy ongoing court orders to leave occupied protest sites in the semiautonomous Chinese city risk arrest.
Amid an apparent lack of consensus over the largely spontaneous movement's response to government offers of further talks, Occupy Central founder Benny Tai said the announcement of the poll had been made "in haste," without adequate consultation of protesters encamped on major highways in the former British colony.
"There was a lot of disagreement about the voting method, the content of the motion on the ballot paper, so we are canceling the vote because of this," Tai told reporters on Monday.
"But this doesn't mean we are stopping the entire movement," he said. "If anyone was planning to come to vote today, please come anyway to any of the three Occupy sites, so everyone can think together about what direction we should develop in."
Joshua Wong, head of the academic activist group Scholarism, said the lack of a vote doesn't mean the students have no intention of responding to offers made at talks last week with Hong Kong government officials.
"It has been nearly a week since the federation of students met with the government, and we hope that the government will respond soon to our suggestions about a political discussion platform," Wong said.
Occupy Central was launched on Sept. 28 amid growing frustration after China's parliament on Aug. 31 ruled out public nominations of candidates for 2017 elections for Hong Kong's chief executive.
While Hong Kong's five million voters will each cast a ballot in the poll, China says candidates must be "patriotic" and will be vetted by a committee stacked with Beijing's supporters, a plan which pan-democratic politicians have dismissed as "fake universal suffrage."
Alex Wong, head of the influential Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) said: "The Hong Kong government should reject the Aug. 31 ruling by the National People's Congress (NPC)."
Hong Kong's High Court last week granted injunctions ordering protesters to leave formerly busy roads in Kowloon's Mong Kok district, and away from areas opposite government headquarters in Admiralty district.
The civil court orders were granted after transportation groups showed they had suffered greater losses to their business than the general public, but protesters have remained in spite of them.
Government lawyer Jin Pao told the court that police stand ready to arrest anyone continuing to defy the injunctions, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported on Monday.
Attacks on journalists
The warnings came as journalists and pan-democratic politicians hit out at attacks on journalists covering an anti-Occupy rally on Saturday.
A woman reporter was dragged to the ground, while a male reporter had his glasses knocked off and tie yanked, the South China Morning Post reported.
One cameraman was also grabbed by the neck and another was pushed to the ground, while all were scratched around their torsos and faces, the paper said.
"Anyone who saw the mob violence against RTHK and TVB reporters last night in Tsimshatsui would think that this is extremely inappropriate," Civic Party leader Alan Leong told RFA on Monday. "The people responsible for beating people up must be severely punished."
"Press freedom is very important to Hong Kong, and we rely on our journalists to be our eyes and ears, so we must protect them," he said.
The Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) also condemned the attacks in a statement on its website.
"Journalists from a number of media organizations were assaulted while covering an anti-Occupy Central rally in Tsimshatsui on the night of Oct. 25," it said.
"Six news unions and associations ... strongly condemn these attacks and the people behind them," it said, adding that the violence had "trampled on press freedom and threatened journalists' personal safety."
The HKJA said violence against journalists has been growing in Hong Kong, sparking fears for traditional press freedoms in the city, which was promised a "high degree of autonomy" under the terms of its 1997 handover to China.
"The organizers of the anti-Occupy faction have turned a blind eye to the assaults, [which] were in no way 'isolated incidents,'" it said.
New sense of unity
At the main Occupy site in Admiralty, protesters marked a full month since police used tear gas and pepper spray on tens of thousands of protesters, who used the now-symbolic umbrellas to defend themselves.
A student protester who gave only his nickname Kenny said the movement had created a new sense of unity among the people of Hong Kong.
"I think it has reminded us who are still in occupation to remember that time, when the government used force against us," Kenny said.
"I think this event will boost people's courage and morale."
Meanwhile, Monday also saw the launch of a book using interviews with leading pan-democratic politicians to chart the course of the pro-democracy movement since 1997.
But the book's author, Beijing-based artist Yang Weidong, was prevented from leaving for Hong Kong and Taiwan by Beijing police, and was unable to attend, he told RFA.
Reported by Wen Yuqing and Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan and Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.