Hong Kong Protesters Call for More Rallies Before TalksAipeng Soo and Dominic Lau
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest leaders called for people to rally on the streets tomorrow ahead of the first formal talks with the government, as they sought to bolster thinning crowds.
The government needs to give a “concrete response” or there will be more civil disobedience actions, student leader Alex Chow told reporters today. Chow called on university students to continue a class boycott started Sept. 22.
The rallies blocking roads in some of the financial center’s main business districts swelled to include as many as 200,000 people before fading as weary demonstrators returned to work and school. Formal talks with the city’s No. 2 official Carrie Lam are scheduled for tomorrow, although student leaders have said the initial discussions weren’t promising and failed to address their demands for a free election in the city.
“The government has to let people know whether there will be hope for Hong Kong’s democratic development,” said Chow, of the Hong Kong Federation of Students. “Hong Kong people will not easily retreat because the reason why they are here is to put pressure on the government.”
The protest leaders spoke after the market closed. The benchmark Hang Seng Index advanced 1.2 percent today, taking its gains since talks were agreed to on Oct. 2 to 2.6 percent.
Representatives from the Hong Kong Federation of Students, Scholarism, Occupy Central With Love and Peace, and opposition lawmakers all spoke today in a show of unity, amid concerns that the democracy activists were splintered and uncoordinated.
Protest leaders have previously said they hold limited control over the tens of thousands of youths who took to the streets in almost two weeks of demonstrations. While the crowds have dwindled to just hundreds, barricades are still in place, disrupting rush-hour traffic and increasingly angering the public.
“They are making their voices heard at the expense of the public to carry on with their normal daily lives,” Police Chief Superintendent Hui Chun-tak told reporters today. “The road blockade has increased the tensions between protesters and the local community.”
Some protesters have laid down beds and mattresses in makeshift shelters in Mong Kok, one of the rally sites, which may increase the risks of confrontation, he said.
China’s decision on Aug. 31 for all candidates for the city’s top office to be vetted by a committee was the flash point for the protests, with lawmakers and the students saying the move will stymie the choice of the people.
A failed attempt to disperse the crowd with tear gas on Sept. 28 by the police sparked public outrage, increasing support for the demonstrators.
Protesters, who besieged the government headquarters in the Admiralty district, then demanded the resignation of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. The impasse was broken when both sides agreed to talks on Oct. 2.
The government is sincere about the talks with the student protesters and “hope to build mutual trust,” it said today in a statement. All discussions need to be based on China’s proposal for Hong Kong’s 2017 leadership contest, it said.
The government’s decision to base formal talks on the legal and constitutional framework ignored the demands of protesters for democracy, Lester Shum, vice secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, told reporters yesterday.
“We urge Hong Kong citizens to take their tents and camp out at Admiralty from tomorrow,” Joshua Wong, a founder of the student group Scholarism, said at the press conference.
The two sides still haven’t agreed on a venue for tomorrow’s discussions, the protesters said today.