Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters surged back onto the streets of Hong Kong on Friday after the government cancelled talks with protest leaders, as the mass civil disobedience movement over electoral reforms in the former British colony entered its 13th consecutive day.
The protesters gathered on a major road in Hong Kong's downtown Admiralty district after student leaders called on them to show the government that the Occupy Central movement pushing for full democracy in the semiautonomous Chinese territory still had some steam.
Some sang the familiar protest songs that have become the refrain of the movement calling for public nomination of candidates in 2017 elections for the position of chief executive, Hong Kong's top leader, in spite of an Aug. 31 ruling by Beijing that it must vet candidates before they can run.
Others brought tents and made ready to spend the night on the two-mile (3.2-kilometer) stretch of Harcourt Road that has become the focus of the mass pro-democracy movement since Sept. 28.
Hong Kong's second-in-command, chief secretary Carrie Lam, pulled out of the talks on Thursday, citing a lack of trust over calls for further mass rallies by student leaders Alex Chow and Joshua Wong.
Chow, who heads the influential Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), took to the podium to call on protesters to keep up the pressure on embattled chief executive C.Y. Leung and his administration.
"[The protesters] can see that the government has given them a false hope, by saying they would hold a dialogue ... and then terminating that dialogue when they saw fit," Chow told the crowd.
"This will only serve to ... bring more people back onto the streets, because they see the government is constantly backtracking," he said.
He said if the government hadn't agreed to restart talks by Sunday, protesters would take action to "force the government to face the people."
Call for apology
Chow was followed by Joshua Wong, leader of the academic activist group Scholarism, who called on the government to apologize for the use of tear-gas against protesters on Sept. 28.
"We have noticed that the government still hasn't apologized for the firing ... of tear-gas," Wong said.
"Since the government lacks sincerity, we must further expand the Occupy movement," he said.
A protester surnamed Leung, who was putting up a tent at the Admiralty site on Friday evening local time, said many in the crowd had come out in response to the cancellation of talks.
"We get the feeling they are just messing us around," Leung said. "I am really very angry about this. It's unacceptable."
"If there is no room for dialogue [with the government], then this is all we can do," she said.
A technical college student surnamed Chow said she would stay overnight, though she hadn't had time to buy a tent.
"I came here because I heard that Carrie Lam had cancelled the talks," she said. "I think the fact that they just cancelled the dialogue like that has brought even more students out onto the streets."
By contrast with the Admiralty rally, much smaller protests of some 200 people each were reported in other Occupy locations in Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, the scene of violent clashes last week.
In Mong Kok, Wong Ka-pang, a protester in his nineties said he had kept vigil at the protest site for several days.
"We have no dialogue, and the government won't cooperate with our demands for universal suffrage," he said. "I have been forced here by the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party, who won't agree to it."
"My entire family was wiped out by the Communist Party, by their policies, if not by them personally," Wong said. "The Communist Party has killed countless people."
HKFS deputy leader Lester Shum said the students would look at the numbers attending protest sites over the weekend and decide how to proceed from there.
Meanwhile, China hit out at a U.S. congressional report supporting the Occupy protest and calling on the administration to monitor the development of democracy in Hong Kong.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) called in the report published on Thursday for enhanced exchanges with the region and for senior U.S. officials to be sent there.
"We firmly oppose it," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing in Beijing. "We demand that the committee stop damaging China-U.S. ties."
Hong said the report was "biased" and constitutes an attack on China's human rights record. He said Hong Kong's affairs are a purely internal matter for China.
"Foreign governments, organizations and individuals are urged to act prudently and not to provide support for the illegal occupation," Hong said.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang meanwhile said he was confident that social stability isn't under threat in Hong Kong.
While he avoided mentioning the demonstrations directly, he said preserving Hong Kong's "long-term prosperity and stability" is not just in China's interest but in that of its residents.
"I am convinced that Hong Kongers, with their wisdom, are in a position—and that the [Hong Kong] government has the authority—to preserve the prosperity of the city and also social stability," said Li, speaking through an interpreter.
He said the regional government "will also protect the inhabitants of the city from injury or material damage."
'One country, two systems'
The "one country, two systems" principle formed part of a 1984 Sino-British treaty promising a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong, and the continuation of its traditional freedoms and judicial independence, as well as progress towards universal suffrage.
Li said Beijing had always implemented the "two systems" approach "and it will stay that way."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met with Li on Friday in Berlin, has called for freedom of speech to be protected in Hong Kong.
And Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou called on Beijing to allow full democracy in Hong Kong.
Democratic Taiwan, which has been governed separately since the nationalists fled there in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists on the mainland, has been pressed to reunify with China under the "one country, two systems" principle.
"During reforms and opening up 30 years ago, Deng Xiaoping famously said 'let some people get rich first,'" Ma said on the anniversary of the Oct.10, 1911 nationalist revolution led by Sun Yat-sen.
"So why can't they allow some people to get democratic first, thereby fulfilling the promises made to the people of Hong Kong 17 years ago?" he said.
Reported by Wen Yuqing, Lin Jing and Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan, Qiao Long and Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.