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Hong Kong Protesters Step up Pressure on Leung to Quit

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests swelled for a sixth day as student leaders renewed an ultimatum for Leung Chun-ying to resign after jeering the city’s top official at a ceremony to mark China’s National Day.

Demonstrators poured back into the three main protest areas at 6 p.m. local time after crowds thinned this morning. With Hong Kong celebrating two days of holidays, numbers may grow beyond last nights tallies, when organizers estimated at least 100,000 people in the main protest areas and tens of thousands more at the secondary sites.

Leung arrived by boat at Golden Bauhinia Square to mark the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, where the Chinese and Hong Kong flags were hoisted. At the ceremony, Leung defended China’s plan to vet candidates for the city’s first leadership election in 2017. His backing of the proposal has fueled the protests and stoked calls for him to quit.

“It’s understandable that different people have different ideal proposals for political reforms,” Leung said. “But having universal suffrage is better than not having it. Five million people being able to pick the chief executive through one-man-one-vote must be better than the 1,200-member election committee” under the current system.

Threat Escalation

The movement, kick-started after students stormed the premise of government headquarters on Sept. 26, grew after police used tear gas over the weekend to disperse crowds.

Student leaders said they would escalate the protests and may surround Leung’s official residence, just above the central business district, if he didn’t resign tomorrow. In a sign that a negotiated solution may be possible, Lester Shum, deputy secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said the group may be willing to hold talks with Carrie Lam, the city’s second-highest ranking official.

“We are optimistic,” 17-year-old student leader Joshua Wong told reporters at the site of the National Day ceremony. “We hope C.Y. can bear the responsibility and step down as soon as possible,” he said, referring to Leung by his initials.

After the flag raising, Leung and other dignitaries drank champagne on a red stage in a reception hall festooned with Chinese and Hong Kong flags as a white-coated band played patriotic tunes. Hundreds of protesters faced police outside the ceremony, booing the chief executive and calling for fully-free elections.

Later, asked about the protests, Zhang Xiaoming, head of China’s liaison office in Hong Kong said “The sun continues to shine,” according to Cable TV.

Global Solidarity

The protests, the biggest challenge to China’s authority since the end of British colonial rule, are in their sixth day and have triggered demonstrations of solidarity globally. Events are being held today in 60 cities from Wellington to Kyoto, Oslo to London and Houston to Toronto, according to the Twitter and Facebook pages of event organizer, United for Democracy: Global Solidarity with Hong Kong.

Democracy activists in Taiwan gathered in Taipei, at a rally attended by Wang Dan, a survivor of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, when the People’s Liberation Army was used to crush the student-led democracy demonstration. New York will hold an “umbrella rally” in Times Square, a reference to the umbrellas demonstrators used to defend against pepper spray fired by the police.

Today also marks the start of Golden Week, a week-long break in mainland China when hundreds of thousands of tourists typically travel to Hong Kong, fueling retail sales.

Chow Sang Sang, the city’s second-largest jewelry chain, shut six shops today, while some restaurants used bicycles to to bring in supplies with protesters blocking roads. Dolce & Gabbana and Fendi stores on Canton Road in the Tsim Sha Tsui district popular with Chinese visitors were also closed.

Golden Week

“It’s still too early to gauge how much business we lose during the Golden Week,” Chow Sang Sang sales operations director Dennis Lau said in an interview. “It may be a headache for some shoppers trying to go to districts such as Mong Kok and Causeway Bay as buses and taxis aren’t running.”

The economic loss for shopping malls and office buildings is at least HK$40 billion ($5.2 billion), China Central Television reported yesterday, citing business associations. The protests aim to paralyze transportation, harm the rule of law and disrupt business to pressure the government into accepting “various unreasonable demands,” CCTV reported.

“I now urge protesters to please leave peacefully and orderly,” Steve Hui, chief superintendent of the police public relations bureau said today. “Their actions have been delaying some emergency services,” he added.

Stocks slumped this week, giving the benchmark Hang Seng Index its biggest two-day drop since February. Markets will resume trading on Oct. 3.

“I don’t know what the hell is going on in Hong Kong,” said Zheng Tian, 40, a tourist from Ningbo. “It’s very inconvenient for me to drag my two luggages all the way to the hotel as taxi drivers refused to come to this area. Shops are closed, food is out of stock at restaurants, what am I supposed to do here?”

— With assistance by Zijing Wu, and Vinicy Chan

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