Organizers behind the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong will hold a ballot among protesters to decide how to respond to last week's talks with government officials after four weeks of continuous sit-ins and rallies for genuine universal suffrage.
The move comes after veteran pan-democratic politicians threw their support behind continued dialogue and negotiation with the government, as opposed to continuing the mass civil disobedience campaign for public nomination of candidates in 2017 elections for the semiautonomous Chinese city's chief executive.
Protesters at the main site blocking a major highway near government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty district will be polled on Sunday, student leaders and Occupy Central leaders said on Friday.
Occupy Central was launched on Sept. 28 amid growing frustration after China's parliament on Aug. 31 ruled out public nominations of candidates for elections for Hong Kong's chief executive.
Under the current proposals, 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."
Government offers 'too vague'
Talks between student leaders and top government officials led by chief secretary Carrie Lam ended with no indication of a breakthrough on Tuesday, with students dismissing government offers to send fresh recommendations to Beijing and to hold discussions on post-2017 electoral as "too vague."
But Democratic Party founding chairman Martin Lee said on Friday that the students should keep an open mind about the government's offers, in spite of repeated warnings by Hong Kong officials and official Chinese media that Beijing won't go back on the Aug. 31 ruling.
"Beijing and the Hong Kong government shut the door to dialogue with students in the past," he said. "Now there is a crack between the door and its frame. Why don't we put a foot there and see what we can get?"
Sunday's poll will run for three hours at the Admiralty site, which has been dubbed "Umbrella Square" after umbrellas used to fend of pepper spray attacks from police became the symbol of the movement.
Voters will be asked whether they support the position of the influential Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), which has been largely dismissive of further dialogue and has vowed to continue the occupation protests at Admiralty, Causeway Bay, and the busy Kowloon shopping district of Mong Kok.
"The vote can quantify the people's demand that the government give us a real response," HKFS leader Alex Chow told reporters on Friday.
New calls to resign
In a fresh blow for embattled chief executive C.Y. Leung, pro-Beijing lawmaker James Tien has echoed repeated calls from Occupy protesters for him to resign.
While protesters want his resignation over the use of tear gas and pepper spray on Sept. 28, Liberal Party leader Tien said Leung should go because there is now a general lack of trust in the ability of his administration to govern the former British colony.
"Hong Kong is now on the verge of becoming ungovernable," Tien told government broadcaster RTHK.
And former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa called on protesters to quit their occupation and go home.
"We need to end this occupation because not only ... is it hurting the livelihood of people, but it's a gross violation of the law," Tung told reporters in his first public comments on the protests.
But retired shipping magnate Tung, who had Beijing's blessing as the first post-colonial city chief after the 1997 handover to Chinese rule, also said the ruling Chinese Communist Party would never use force to clear the protests.
Hong Kong current affairs commentator Poon Siu-to said Tung's reassurances don't necessarily reflect Beijing's eventual decision on the protests, as the party held its fourth plenary session of the 18th Party Congress this week.
"It's likely that there are differences of opinion in Beijing over how to deal with this," Poon told RFA. "[Tung] only represents one shade of opinion."
"There are also likely to be people [in the party] who are arguing for a much greater deployment of force to clear the protests, even for bringing in the People's Liberation Army (PLA), and the other faction is against it, which is why he has come out saying this now," he added.
Banner on Lion Rock
Sporadic clashes broke out on Friday in Mong Kok between anti-Occupy groups, who tried to remove makeshift barricades protecting occupying protesters, and police and occupiers, who tried to stop them.
A photographer for the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper said he was punched in the face by a man wearing a mask during scuffles. His alleged attacker was later detained by police.
A couple of miles away, government rescue workers had already removed a huge yellow banner calling for universal suffrage that was hung from Kowloon's iconic Lion Rock by abseiling Occupy supporters on Thursday.
Photographs of the banner, which read "I want genuine universal suffrage," suspended from the ear of the "lion," spawned a series of online memes and copycat banners across Hong Kong.
In Admiralty, protester Pui Yee said many in the territory had found the Lion Rock banner "very moving."
"There was a singer called Roman Tam [1950-2002] who sang a song called 'Under Lion Rock,' and I wasn't even born back then," Pui said. "But this song really stands for Hong Kong, because people here have a thing called the Lion Rock spirit."
"I was really very moved [by the banner]," she added. "I think Hong Kong people are awesome."
U.N. calls rejected
Meanwhile, Chinese and Hong Kong officials rejected calls by the United Nations human rights committee for Beijing to allow public nomination of candidates, on the basis that China's insistence on vetting them is in violation of international human rights treaties.
Hong Kong has signed and ratified the U.N.'s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, passed by the General Assembly in 1966, while Beijing has signed but not ratified it.
Lam Woon-kwong, who convenes Hong Kong's cabinet, the Executive Council, said the government would peruse the U.N. committee's recommendations.
"I have dealt with their well-intentioned suggestions in the sphere of human rights before," Lam said, adding: "I will take a look at them."
But he said the forthcoming electoral reforms will be implemented within the framework of Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
"They don't lie within the remit of the U.N. Human Rights Committee," Lam said.
China's foreign ministry on Friday said Beijing "is not a party" to the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights.
"The covenant takes effect only via Hong Kong's own laws ... [and] isn't a benchmark by which to measure Hong Kong's political reforms," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing.
China's party mouthpiece the People's Daily meanwhile hit out at student demands for changes to the Basic Law, repeating the official line that the Occupy Central protests are illegal.
Reported by Wen Yuqing and Dai Weisen for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.