Hong Kong leader blames ‘external forces’ for protests

Students deny foreign influence and hope for concessions in talks with government

Hong Kong’s chief executive has blamed “external forces” for the democracy protests that have rocked the territory in recent weeks as both government and students gear up for talks aimed at resolving the deadlock over universal suffrage.

Angry at the Chinese government's decision to vet candidates for the leadership polls in 2017, student protesters are calling for fully democratic elections in Hong Kong.

After weeks of umbrellas, songs from Les Miserables, yellow ribbons and street art, protesters in Hong Kong have added the Liverpool FC anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone to their repertoire.

Hong Kong's chief executive Leung Chun-ying, who is backed by Beijing, has said the territory's government was unwilling to compromise on China's restrictions.


Discussions between protesters and government are set to begin today, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, the city's No. 2 official, said.

China's National People's Congress has said that the city's next leader can be elected by universal suffrage, but that the shortlist of candidates must be approved by a 1,200-strong panel of government supporters.

Tens of thousands of people have taken part in demonstrations in Hong Kong demanding full democracy in the past three weeks or so, and while the numbers have risen and fallen, there has been a constant presence in the Admiralty and Causeway Bay areas of Hong Kong Island, and in Mong Kok, a residential and shopping district in Kowloon.

Legal pressure on the demonstrators is growing.

On Monday, two injunctions were granted by the Hong Kong High Court ordering pro-democracy protesters in Mong Kok to leave the area immediately.

The injunctions were granted to representatives of the Taxi Association and the Taxi Drivers and Operators Association and the Chiu Luen Public Light Bus Company, saying the demonstrations were causing public nuisance and "inconvenience".

Mr Leung appeared to blame mysterious foreign agents for causing the protests.

In an interview with local broadcaster ATV, Mr Leung said the occupations were “not entirely a domestic movement, as external forces are involved”, without giving any specifics or naming the countries involved.

This is in line with the Chinese government’s line that “foreign forces” were interfering in Hong Kong.

The claim was denied by Alex Chow of the Hong Kong Federation of Students who said the leader's comments were "irresponsible".

“To make a statement that there are foreign powers infiltrating this movement right before the discussions, is evidence that CY (Leung) is hoping to crack down on the entire movement,” said Mr Chow.

The government also believes that there are moves afoot to radicalise the students.

Security Chief Lai Tung-kwok said some clashes in recent days had been initiated by activists affiliated to “radical organisations which have been active in conspiring, planning and charging violent acts”.

Some comments from the government side come across as more measured.

Financial Secretary John Tsang wrote in his blog: "At this moment, the movement's founders, students in the movement and citizens who support it should put their passions down, calmly access the direction of the movement as it continues."

“Withdrawal isn’t an easy decision, which warrants a great deal of courage. But I still believe you can have the bravery to make the right choice at the key moments.”

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing