Hong Kong Protests Shrink as Government Buildings Unblocked, Schools Open

china-hk-mongkok-occupy-oct-2014-crop.jpg A screen grab from a video shows Occupy protesters in the Kowloon district of Mong Kok, Oct. 6, 2014.

The number of protesters occupying areas of downtown Hong Kong shrank to just a few hundred on Monday, as civil servants returned to work at government headquarters amid growing calls for talks between student demonstrators and the government over universal suffrage.

A handful of protesters remained encamped outside central government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty district on Monday, but they made no attempt to obstruct some 3,000 government staff as they showed up for work.

A few hundred occupiers continued to block a section of highway connecting Admiralty and the Central business district after more than a week of continuous occupation by thousands, at times hundreds of thousands, of protesters calling for public nomination of candidates in 2017 elections for the chief executive.

Across the harbor, some 500 Occupy Central campaigners remained at an intersection in the busy Kowloon shopping district of Mong Kok late on Monday, the scene of violent clashes between Occupy and anti-Occupy protesters—some of whom were found to have links to Hong Kong's criminal "triad" organizations—over the weekend.

Protesters sat in groups discussing politics, and occasionally bursting into popular songs of the Occupy movement.

A volunteer at the protest site said demonstrators are keen to keep the mood light following widespread media coverage of sometimes violence clashes between Occupy and anti-Occupy protesters at the weekend.

"If anyone comes to mess with us, we sing Happy Birthday, because we figure that will make them lose interest in causing trouble," he said.

A university student surnamed Fung said she had previously attended protests in Admiralty.

"I came over here today because [those who quit] don't represent everybody," she said.

A local resident surnamed Tse, who was handing out face-masks to the protesters, said she wanted to help after being angered by the use of pepper spray by police.

Meanwhile, a local business owner said he had shut up shop early to avoid any trouble later in the evening.

"I haven't had much business in eight days," he said. "None of these people walking by are buying anything; they are here because of the action; genuine customers stay away when they see the situation here."

And some 200 people remained camped out in the Causeway Bay shopping district on Hong Kong island.

Police presence

Police have maintained a discreet uniformed and plainclothed presence at the protests since being strongly criticized for the use of riot squads, tear-gas and pepper spray on Sept. 28.

Student leaders and Occupy Central founders have continued to press the government for talks on electoral reforms, in spite of warnings from the Chinese parliament that candidates in the 2017 race for chief executive will be popularly elected, but must be vetted by a committee approved by Beijing.

Pan-democratic politicians and Occupy campaigners have dismissed the proposals as "fake universal suffrage," and are calling for dialogue with government officials.

But Hong Kong chief executive C.Y. Leung has said China's ban on public nominations can't be reversed.

"We ... want it to be a substantive dialogue, not just a casual chat or a consultative session," HKFS deputy leader Lester Shum told a news conference on Monday.

He said officials have told the protesters that the framework set out by China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), must be adhered to.

Hong Kong's undersecretary for constitutional affairs Lau Kong-Wah said that more than one meeting will be held with protesters this week, however.

Lau said he was "hopeful" that a meeting between students and Leung's second-in-command Carrie Lam will take place this week.

Call for debate

A student surnamed Lam at the Admiralty protest said he was upset by opposition to the protests, which are being dubbed the "Umbrella Revolution" after protesters used umbrellas to defend themselves against pepper spray last week.

"I think they could come and debate it with us, or write a leaflet or something," he said.

A second student at the scene surnamed Yip said it was hard to see where the protests could go in the absence of a meaningful response from the government.

"It would be a shame if it just dragged on and on like this with no result," Yip said. "The main problem we face now is that people need to go to work, or class, so gradually there are fewer and fewer people left here."

"The people staying behind are hoping for some sort of concrete result: at the very least, a dialogue with the government."

Meanwhile, Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Monday said there would be "few long-term economic effects" from the Occupy movement in Hong Kong.

It said in a report that while retail and tourism sectors had been affected, there were few signs of capital flight from Hong Kong, and that the rest of the economy appeared to be functioning normally.

Secondary schools near the Occupy protests on Hong Kong island re-opened on Monday, while primary schools are scheduled to re-open on Tuesday.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party has yet to make an official comment on the Occupy protests, but has repeatedly called them "illegal" and unpopular with the general public via its tightly controlled official media.

Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see, Pan Jiaqing and Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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