Hong Kong student leaders agree to talks but refuse to end protest

Chief executive warns police will take ‘all necessary actions’ as deadline expires today

A demonstrator attaches an umbrella to a statue outside the government offices in Hong Kong yesteray.  Photograph: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

A demonstrator attaches an umbrella to a statue outside the government offices in Hong Kong yesteray. Photograph: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

 

Protest leaders in Hong Kong said they would create access lanes to government buildings to allow civil servants to go back to work this week, but defied pressure to end their occupation of key sectors of the downtown commercial area.

Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying said on Saturday the protesters would have to be dispersed by this morning so life could return to normal. He said officials and police would take “all necessary actions” to restore order.

Andrew Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, told the crowd last night it had started preparations for talks with Hong Kong’s chief secretary, Carrie Lam, because police had met their bottom line for the dialogue – the guarantee of protesters’ safety.

“Occupy must go on to give pressure to the government, as it is why they are willing to talk to us in the first place,” he said.

If the police used rubber bullets, however, the protesters would have to disperse, he said. “There’s no way to defend against that.”

Benny Tai, one of the leaders of the Occupy Central movement, told the crowd on Saturday: “We only target CY [Leung], not other government officials. By opening a route, CY will have no reason or excuse to clear our occupation and spread foul rumours.”

The student federation said it would not end the protests as no progress had been made on political reform and because the police had yet to address their handling of attacks on protesters on Friday.

They gathered in the streets yesterday, chanting, “Democracy in Hong Kong”, waving their illuminated mobile phones, singing songs and cheering as a succession of leaders addressed the crowds.

Tear gas

In an interview with the Sunday Morning Post, a police officer who ordered the use of tear gas said: “I have no regrets. If I hadn’t used it, and they had come through, we could have ended up with seriously injured or worse. If I am in the same situation [again], and there is serious threat to public safety, then I will do the same.”

The protesters want to avoid further clashes. “We are not seeking revolution. We just want democracy,” said Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old leader of the Scholarism activist group.

“We hope there will be no violence. It would be unfortunate if this movement ended with bloodshed and violence.”

Mr Leung said the worst unrest in Hong Kong since the former British colony was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997 could spiral “out of control, causing serious consequence to public safety and social order”.

Violent clashes

The violence took place in Mong Kok, a commercial district in Kowloon. According to local radio station RTHK, 18 people were injured, including six police officers, and there were 19 arrests, including eight suspected Triad members. The protesters criticised the police for not intervening.

It has been one of the most challenging weeks for China’s ruling Communist Party since it cracked down on pro-democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square in June 1989. Mr Leung made a television appearance on Saturday urging everyone to go home, but the Mong Kok attacks angered the demonstrators and raised tensions again.

The protests have largely been confined thus far to the week-long public holiday around National Day, and while they have hit retailers and hotels, they have yet to make much of a difference to ordinary Hong Kongers’ lives as schools and offices have been closed for holidays.

The next step will be to see what happens when Hong Kong tries to open for business again. Student leaders have vowed to maintain the occupation until they reach agreement with officials.

– (Additional reporting: The Guardian)