Protests escalated late last month, after Beijing's decision on
August 31 to impose conditions for nominations that would
effectively stop pro-democracy candidates from contesting an
election of the city's chief executive set for 2017.
The occupation movement suffered a noticeable dip in support over
the past week, but strong crowds of over ten thousand returned on
Friday evening for a series of rallies in the former British colony.
By Saturday afternoon many protesters were coming back again to join
the stalwarts who had camped overnight.
"Hong Kong is my home, we are fighting for Hong Kong's future, our
future," Lawrence Chan, a 23 year-old media studies student, who has
participated in the protests from the outset, told Reuters.
Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said on Thursday that the
government had called off talks with the students because of their
persistent calls to escalate action.
"It seems like they (the government) don't want to (have a)
conversation with us. But I think this amount of people shows that
we really want to solve the problem with the government," said Kiki
Choi, a 25-year-old art teacher among the protesters.
Since taking to the streets around two weeks ago, the activists have
blockaded major roads around the government precinct in Admiralty,
as well as the shopping districts of Central and Causeway Bay.
At Friday's rallies, protest leaders urged demonstrators to prepare
for a protracted struggle instead of expanding the protests
geographically. The protests have led to some resentment among the
public due to the resulting traffic jams and loss of business.
It was unclear how long Hong Kong authorities will tolerate the
occupation or how the standoff might be resolved. For now, however,
the police presence remains thin with authorities seemingly
reluctant to risk fresh flare-ups.
Riot police had cracked down on protesters massing near the
government headquarters on Sept. 28, but the authorities have taken
a softer line since.
Over one hundred colorful tents were sprinkled across the eight-lane
Harcourt Road highway, among scores of red and blue portable
marquees serving as supply and first aid stations; stocked with
water, biscuits, noodles and cereals.
"We have tents here to show our determination that we're prepared
for a long term occupation," said Benny Tai, one of the leaders of
the movement, emerging bleary-eyed on Saturday morning from a tent
pitched outside the Hong Kong government's headquarters.
Scores of people ran a marathon in support of the students early on
Saturday, and bridges remained festooned with umbrellas, protest art
demanding full democracy and satirical images lampooning Leung
Chun-ying, the city's Beijing-backed leader.
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The 'Occupy Central' protests, an idea conceived over a year ago
referring to the Central business district, have presented Beijing
with one of its biggest political challenges since it crushed
pro-democracy demonstrations in and around Tiananmen Square in the
Chinese capital in 1989.
NO SIMPLE WAY OUT
In the first direct public comments by a senior Chinese leader in
response to the protests, Premier Li Keqiang said Hong Kong
authorities had the ability to protect the city's economic
prosperity and social stability.
"Maintaining the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong is
not only in China's interests but is mostly in the interests of the
people of Hong Kong," Li said in Germany on Friday.
Since Britain handed back control in 1997, China has ruled Hong Kong
through a "one country, two systems" formula which allows
wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland and
specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal.
The Communist Party leadership has dismissed the Hong Kong protests
as illegal and has left Leung to find a solution.
Beijing fears that calls for democracy in Hong Kong could spread to
the mainland, with China already facing separatist unrest in
far-flung Tibet and Xinjiang.
Leung has so far ignored protesters demands for full democracy and
their calls for him to quit. Earlier this week, some lawmakers
demanded that anti-graft officers investigate a $6.4 million
business payout to Leung, while in office.
The leader of Hong Kong's largest pro-Beijing political party, Tam
Yiu-chung, conceded after a late meeting with Leung that while the
protests should be cleared as soon as possible: "It is not a simple
thing and it is not a ripe time now."
(Additional reporting by Clare Baldwin; Writing by James Pomfret;
Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
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