Hong Kong Activist Group Urges End to Street OccupationsAlfred Liu and Fion Li
Leaders of a Hong Kong protest group that joined forces with students in a two-month street sit-in to demand more democracy have called on remaining demonstrators to end the occupation.
Their appeal came as three student leaders, including Joshua Wong, the 18-year-old head of protest group Scholarism, announced a hunger strike to press the city government to restart dialog over political reform. The city’s leader Leung Chun-ying told pro-democracy protesters today their fight is in vain and urged them to leave the streets, as the movement showed more signs of fracturing.
Benny Tai, one of three co-founders of Occupy Central With Love and Peace, said they will try to surrender to police tomorrow to bear the consequences for taking part in illegal assemblies. It’s unclear how police will respond given that none of the three has been charged with any offense.
Hundreds of protesters camped outside the government’s headquarters in the Admiralty district for more than two months face being cleared out of the main protest site after a court granted an injunction against blocking roadways there. The demonstrations, the biggest challenge to China’s rule over Hong Kong since it resumed sovereignty in 1997, are fizzling amid fading public support and internal disagreements over tactics.
“In order to challenge this unjust system, we are willing to face lawful consequences, to surrender and bear the legal consequences in the respect of law,” Tai said at a press briefing today. “For the sake of the occupiers’ safety, for the sake of our original intention of love and peace as we prepare to surrender, let me urge the students to retreat.”
Police used pepper spray and water hoses to force back demonstrators who had sought to paralyze government operations by surrounding offices on the night of Nov. 30-Dec. 1.
“In terms of paralyzing the government headquarters, it worked for half a day,” Alex Chow, the secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, told reporters yesterday. “But overall, it’s a failure. We could see even though we have occupied some places that it could quickly be cleared by police violently.”
In some of the most violent clashes since the start of the movement in September, dozens of students and police were taken to hospitals. The city was forced to shut the government offices, where thousands of civil servants work, for part of the day. The police arrested at least 40 people.
“I don’t think up to this point we should continue to put the occupiers in such a dangerous situation,” Tai said today. “We are not abandoning the occupiers; we just urge them to understand that the fight for democracy is a long battle. We should reserve all our energy in order to have a better chance to get democracy for Hong Kong in the long run.”
Tai, a law professor, helped found Occupy Central almost two years ago, threatening to have supporters occupy the Central Business district if China didn’t permit fully free elections in 2017. After China’s August announcement that candidates would be vetted, Occupy was preparing to begin their sit-in when the student protests began. Occupy joined in the demonstrations that surged to over 100,000 people in the early days, more than 10 times the number Tai had forecast for his group’s planned action.
The court yesterday granted an injunction to All China Express, a bus company, for the removal of barricades on key parts of the roads protesters have occupied in the Admiralty district.
The new injunction will allow bailiffs, backed by police, to clear barriers blocking parts of Connaught Road, Harcourt Road and Cotton Tree Drive to permit traffic to flow, the judge ruled. Those who impede bailiffs will be liable for criminal contempt charges, according to the court ruling.
Last week, bailiffs and police removed protesters from Mong Kok, one of the three sites, through similar injunctions, leading to the biggest number of arrests in a two-day period since the demonstrations started.
Leung said today he is concerned that some of the Mong Kok protesters are joining the clashes in Admiralty. Police have said they are different people with different agendas from the students. Leung warned demonstrators not to mistake police restraint with weakness.
“With the occupiers in Mong Kok coming to Admiralty and it’s hard to to send them away, we are very concerned with the daily order and security of the Admiralty occupy zone and whether there will be more clashes among the occupiers,” Leung said. “I hope the students on hunger strikes can take care, especially with the temperatures dropping these days.”
The protesters are demanding that China reverse a decision to vet candidates for the city’s 2017 leadership election. Leung reiterated yesterday that the protesters’ main demand for public nomination is unconstitutional.
The Basic Law, the de-facto constitution, calls for candidates to be selected by a nominating committee before people vote.
The pro-democracy movement has lost momentum and there are signs of growing support for the authorities’ efforts to clear the demonstrations through a mix of police and legal action. About 68 percent of 513 people surveyed by the University of Hong Kong said the government should act to end the protests, according to a poll conducted Nov. 17-18.