Hong Kong Democracy Protest Leaders Say Withdrawal an Option

Hong Kong student leaders are considering ending their two-month street occupation, as the latest violent clash with police increased calls from fellow protesters to wind down the pro-democracy movement.

“On whether to withdraw or not, we have been considering all kind of options,” Tommy Cheung, a representative of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, told reporters today. “We will talk to the occupiers and different groups in the coming days. We haven’t got any concrete decision yet.”

Police beat back the student-led attempt to surround government offices on the night of Nov. 30 in clashes that left dozens injured, in another setback to protesters who face a court ruling to clear out. The demonstrations, kickstarted by China’s decision to vet candidates for the city’s next chief executive election, are fizzling amid fading public support and disagreements over tactics.

The student federation will decide whether to retreat within a week, Commercial Radio Hong Kong reported today, citing Yvonne Leung, a representative for the group.

A retreat will end the biggest challenge to China’s rule over Hong Kong since it took over in 1997, and move the attention to lawmakers who need to vote on the proposed electoral reforms.

Rule of Law

The street occupation hasn’t damaged the Chinese city’s rule of law, according to Leonard Hoffmann, a visiting judge on the former British colony’s Court of Final Appeal.

“In every society there is room for points to be made by civil disobedience,” he said today, citing the example of the suffragettes who won British women the right to vote in the early 20th century.

The protests have impacted Hong Kong’s rule of law, while also reflecting the different views on electoral reforms, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said on Nov. 9 while meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

“I don’t think either side has exceeded the bounds of the fair rules of the game” for civil disobedience, Hoffmann said after giving a talk on arbitration and rule of law.

Those rules are: protesters avoid creating mayhem, and authorities and courts recognize acts of conscience and take that into account when it comes to punishment, said Hoffman, who has served on Hong Kong’s top court since 1998.

Operation Failed

The founders of Occupy Central with Love and Peace, who were the first to propose mass street occupations, said Dec. 2 that student leaders should end the demonstrations. Hong Kong Democratic Party Chairman Emily Lau and the city’s former chief secretary Anson Chan both urged the students to withdraw on concerns of safety and move on to develop a new campaign strategy.

Police used pepper spray and water hoses in Nov. 30-Dec. 1 clashes, arresting at least 40 people. While the city was forced to shut government offices for part of the day, the student leaders have said the attempt to paralyze its operations failed.

Members of Scholarism, a student protest group led by Joshua Wong, this week started a hunger strike in an attempt to force the government to accede to their demands for talks on free elections.

Basic Law

Hong Kong won’t agree to talks on restarting the constitutional reform process as requested by Scholarism, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said yesterday. All talks need to be undertaken under the guidelines of the Basic Law, the city’s de facto constitution, which calls for candidates to be screened by a committee, Leung said.

“The government should engage in dialogue with the occupiers,” the federation’s Cheung said. “Political issues should be solved politically, meaning through talks and meetings.”

The court on Dec. 1 granted an injunction to All China Express, a bus company, for the removal of barricades on parts of the roads protesters have occupied outside government offices 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.

Tai and 64 other people surrendered to the police as of 7. p.m. yesterday for taking part in illegal street protests. The police said they will conduct follow-up investigations.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.