Tens of thousands have taken to Hong Kong's streets in the past
week to demand full democracy in the former British colony,
including a free voting system when they come to choose a new leader
Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying agreed to open talks with
pro-democracy protesters but refused to stand down. He and his
Chinese government backers made clear that they would not back down
in the face of the city's worst unrest in decades.
And Financial Secretary John Tsang warned that sustained protests in
the city's Central financial centre could create "permanent" damage
to the Asian financial hub.
Numbers dwindled at some protest sites in and around Central as rain
fell on Friday and as Hong Kong people returned to work after a
But in the gritty, bustling district of Mong Kok, considered one of
the most crowded places on earth with its high-rise apartment blocks
packed close together over neon lights, bars, restaurants and
open-air markets, about 1,000 Beijing supporters clashed with about
100 protesters, spitting and throwing water bottles.
Police formed a human chain to separate the two groups amid the wail
Some demonstrators held umbrellas for police in the rain while
Beijing supporters shouted at police for failing to clear the
"We are all fed up and our lives are affected," said teacher Victor
Ma, 42. "You don't hold Hong Kong citizens hostage because it's not
going to work. That's why the crowd is very angry here."
Mong Kok is popular with tourists from the mainland but not as well
known to Western tourists as the luxury shopping area of Causeway
Bay, where pedestrians were trying to remove protest barricades put
up by Occupy Central protesters.
Leung refused to bow to an ultimatum from protesters to resign.
Police have warned repeatedly of serious consequences if protesters
try to block off or occupy government buildings in and around
Leung told reporters just minutes before the ultimatum expired at
midnight on Thursday that Chief Secretary Carrie Lam would meet
students soon to discuss political reforms, but gave no timeframe.
The protests have ebbed and flowed since Sunday when police used
pepper spray, tear gas and baton charges to break up the
demonstrations, which are the biggest since the former British
colony was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997.
China rules Hong Kong through a "one country, two systems" formula
underpinned by the Basic Law, which accords Hong Kong some autonomy
and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland and has universal suffrage
as an eventual goal.
But Beijing decreed on Aug. 31 it would vet candidates who want to
run for chief executive at an election in 2017, angering democracy
activists who took to the streets.
"VIOLATION OF THE LAW"
While Leung made an apparent concession by offering talks, Beijing
restated its resolute opposition to the protests and a completely
free vote in Hong Kong.
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"For a few consecutive days, some people have been making trouble in
Hong Kong, stirring up illegal assemblies in the name of seeking
'real universal suffrage'," China's official People's Daily said in
a front-page commentary.
"Such acts have outrightly violated the Basic Law, Hong Kong's law,
as well as the principle of the rule of law, and they are doomed to
Beijing, facing separatist unrest in far-flung and
resource-rich Tibet and Xinjiang, is unlikely to give way in Hong
Kong, fearful that calls for democracy there, especially if
successful, will spread to the mainland.
Leung's office described the blockade of pedestrian pathways outside
his office as "serious illegal" activity. Leung himself said
government meetings had been moved to former offices and had not
Away from the streets, a hacker website called Anonymous Asia
targeted several Hong Kong websites of pro-Beijing groups and Occupy
supporters, temporarily disabling them on Friday. There were also
signs of tension between the protesters and government employees.
"I need to go to work. I'm a cleaner. Why do you have to block me
from going to work?" said one woman as she quarrelled with
protesters. "You don't need to earn a living but I do."
Some protesters suspect authorities are trying to buy time with
their offer of talks to wait for numbers to dwindle.
"I hope the chief executive can stop siding with Beijing and do one
thing for Hong Kong people," Martin Lee, founding chairman of Hong
Kong's Democratic Party, told protesters.
"He should go to Beijing and say 'I cannot really continue to run
this place unless you give Hong Kong people what they deserve and
what you have promised'."
The protests have been an amalgam of students, activists from the
Occupy movement and ordinary Hong Kongers. They have come together
under the banner of "Umbrella Revolution", so called because many of
them used umbrellas to ward off pepper spray used by police on
The Occupy movement presents one of the biggest political challenges
for Beijing since it violently crushed pro-democracy protests in and
around Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Hong Kong's benchmark share index, the Hang Seng <.HSI>, plunged 7.3
percent in September, in part because of the uncertainty surrounding
the protests. It was down 2.6 percent on the week on Friday. Spooked
by the protests, some banks and other financial firms have begun
moving staff to back-up premises on the outskirts of the city.
(Additional reporting by John Ruwitch, Charlie Zhu, Donny Kwok,
James Pomfret, Bobby Yip, Irene Jay Liu, Farah Master, Diana Chan,
Clare Baldwin, Kinling Lo, Diana Chan and Jason Subler in HONG KONG;
Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Robert Birsel)
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