Hong Kong chief executive says he will not resign

Leader warns of ‘serious consequences’ if protests occupy government buildings

People rest with their heads under umbrellas on a road during a protest in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong on Thursday. The Hong Kong government has called for thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators to end their protests and free up the city centre. Photograph: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

People rest with their heads under umbrellas on a road during a protest in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong on Thursday. The Hong Kong government has called for thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators to end their protests and free up the city centre. Photograph: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

 

Hong Kong‘s leader, Leung Chun-ying, has told pro-democracy protesters that he has no intention of stepping down, and warned that the consequences of occupying government buildings would be serious.

Mr Leung, speaking just minutes before an ultimatum for him to resign expired, also said Chief Secretary Carrie Lam would hold a meeting with students soon to discuss political reforms. He gave no specific time frame.

“I won‘t resign because I must carry out the universal suffrage work,” said Mr Leung, referring to electoral reforms in the former British colony.

In August, Beijing ruled out free elections for the city’s next leader in 2017, triggering mass protests that saw students storm government buildings a week ago and police fire tear gas to disperse them on Sunday.

“In any place in the world, if there are any protesters that surround, attack, or occupy government buildings like police headquarters, or the chief executive’s office ... the consequences are serious,” Mr Leung said.

Earlier today the Hong Kong government called for the thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators to end their protests and free up the city centre, and warned against any efforts to try to occupy and government buildings.

The student leaders, wearing yellow ribbons and carrying umbrellas, are demanding that Mr Leung resign and an open vote to elect a new leader in the city’s first elections in 2017, or they will escalate protests that have blockaded downtown Hong Kong for nearly a week.

Beijing has said it will vet candidates for the territory’s first leadership election. Currently, the top official is selected by a 1,200-member committee.

Tens of thousands of protesters continue to occupy key areas of central Hong Kong and Kowloon across the harbour. Last weekend, riot police used tear gas, pepper spray and baton charges to clear the streets, the worst violence Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

Steve Hui, senior superintendent of the Hong Kong police force, told the South China Morning Post police would take action if the protesters tried to enter government buildings.

“Whenever there are violent and major incidents and crimes such as fighting and any other situation that jeopardises safety and public order, police will take resolute and firm action to restore public order,” Mr Hui said, when asked how police would respond should the students carry out their threat.

The Occupy Central movement demonstrations pose one of the biggest political challenges for Beijing since it violently cracked down on pro-democracy protests on Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The Chinese government in Beijing has stepped up its criticism of the protests.

A front page editorial in the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official organ, said the protests were illegal and were damaging Hong Kong, and they warned of “unimaginable consequences” if they continued.

The rule of law needed to be protected to help Hong Kong “achieve the healthy development of democracy and politics.

“If affairs are handled without following the law, Hong Kong society will be in chaos,” the editorial warned.

This prompted comparisons with the “426” editorial that was published by People’s Daily on April 26th, 1989, which presaged the tanks rolling in to Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4th of that year.

However, the 426 editorial was much more critical and accused the students of trying to take control of China, whereas this week’s editorial was milder in tone.

In another editorial carried by the Xinhua news agency, the writer said: “The illegal gatherings of the Occupy Central movement instigated by some people in Hong Kong do not promote democratic and constitutional development in the special administrative region. Instead, they are ruining it.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was in Washington to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry, said that Hong Kong affairs were China’s internal affairs and all countries should respect China’s sovereignty.

“This is also a basic principle governing international relations,” Mr Wang said. “I believe for any country, for any society, no one will allow those illegal acts that violate public order. We believe that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s government has the capability to properly handle the current situation in accordance with the law.”

Chen Zuoer, who was the chief Chinese negotiator of the Hong Kong handover in 1997 and is now president of the National Research Council of Hong Kong and Macau, called the Occupy Central protests a “Hong Kong-version of Colour Revolution”.

He said the protest was “quite dangerous but is going to end in failure sooner or later” and “some of the young people’s passions regarding Hong Kong and China’s future are worthy of praise, but they are too gullible and impetuous.”

There are concerns that the economy could be affected by the demonstrations. The China National Tourism Administration has suspended visits by tour groups to Hong Kong, a major source of revenue in the former crown colony.

Additional reporting from Agencies