Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying defied pro-democracy protesters’ demands to step down, with pressure also increasing from Leung’s backers in Beijing over one of the most serious political challenges they have faced in decades.
Leung refused to bow to an ultimatum from protesters to resign and repeated police warnings of serious consequences should they try to block off or occupy government buildings.
He told reporters just minutes before the ultimatum expired at midnight that Chief Secretary Carrie Lam would meet students soon to discuss political reforms, but gave no timeframe.
Tens of thousands have taken to Hong Kong’s streets in the past week to demand full democracy, including a free voting system when they come to choose a new leader in 2017.
The protests have ebbed and flowed in the days since police used pepper spray, tear gas and baton charges last Sunday to break up the biggest demonstrations seen since the former British colony was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997.
China rules Hong Kong through a «one country, two systems» formula underpinned by a «Basic Law», which accords Hong Kong some autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland and with universal suffrage as an eventual goal.
Beijing, however, decreed on Aug. 31 it would vet candidates who want to run for chief executive at an election in 2017, angering democracy activists who took to the streets.
While Leung made an apparent concession by offering talks, Beijing restated its resolute opposition to the protests and a completely free vote in Hong Kong.
«For a few consecutive days, some people have been making trouble in Hong Kong, stirring up illegal assemblies in the name of seeking ‘real universal suffrage’,» China’s official People’s Daily said in a front-page commentary on Friday.
«Such acts have outrightly violated the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s law, as well as the principle of the rule of law, and they are doomed to fail,» the commentary warned.
Thousands of protesters had gathered outside Leung’s office in central Hong Kong in anticipation of the ultimatum, but were disappointed when Leung stood firm.
Their numbers fell to hundreds as the sun rose on Friday and Hong Kongers prepared to go back to work after the two-day National Day holiday, although there were tense moments with about 100 police guarding the building.
Protesters refused to allow two trucks carrying supplies for police guarding Leung’s office through their lines, although the stand-off remained peaceful.
But there were signs of tension between public employees trying to go back to work and the protesters who have barricaded the area outside Leung’s office.
«I need to go to work. I’m a cleaner. Why do you have to block me from going to work?» said one woman as she quarrelled with protesters. «You don’t need to earn a living but I do.»
Other government workers milled around outside the building, waiting for instructions before the government later declared its main office building would remain closed for the day, with workers to go to secondary sites.
Other protest sites in the Central business district, the luxury shopping area of Causeway Bay and in the densely populated residential Mong Kok district of Kowloon were quiet.
Source: Buenos Aires Herald