Pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong yesterday announced a partial withdrawal from some protest sites, but others vowed to stay on ahead of a deadline to clear the streets.
Occupy Central, one of the groups organizing the protests, said people would leave a secondary site to reinforce the main demonstration area and would allow access to a blockaded road near the Hong Kong government’s downtown headquarters.
Demonstrators across the harbor in congested Mong Kok would join those in the central Admiralty district, and they had asked that the road next to the offices of the city’s leader be unblocked, the group said.
“#OccupyHK supporters in Mong Kok announce they will leave and join the occupation in Admiralty,” the group said on Twitter. “#OccupyHK protesters outside the Chief Executive’s office in Lung Wo Rd announce they’ve decided to withdraw after deliberating together.”
However, the decision was not immediately backed up by student protesters, the other main group behind the week-long demonstrations, with a reporter in Mong Kok told that demonstrators would leave, but that others would remain on the site.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) said the government was determined to “take all necessary actions to restore social order” and allow residents to “return to their normal work and life.” In particular he pointed to the need to allow government staff to resume work by this morning.
Only a few hundred were on the streets early yesterday afternoon in Admiralty. Hours earlier, tens of thousands had turned out there in the biggest gathering yet of the protest.
“I don’t know the police’s strategy, but I’ve told my friends and students that we have to be here tonight [yesterday],” said Petula Ho, an associate professor at Hong Kong University. “Students don’t have to be in dangerous areas in the front, but we must be here.”
The protesters are demanding the right to nominate who can run as Hong Kong’s next leader in 2017 elections.
The Chinese Communist Party, which regained sovereignty over Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, insists that only preapproved candidates will be able to stand and has repeatedly said the protests are doomed to fail.
Leung said he was determined to clear the streets near the government offices by today, after two public holidays cut short the working week last week.
“We have to ensure the safety of government premises and restore their operation,” Leung said in a televised address late on Saturday. “The most pressing task for the government is to reopen access to the CGO [Central Government Offices] on Monday so that some 3,000 CGO staff can return to their workplace and continue to provide services to the public.”
Leung, who was voted into office by 689 people on a pro-Beijing committee numbering just 1,200 two years ago, issued an ominous warning if the protests are not ended.
“The situation may probably evolve into a state beyond control, and will have serious consequences to public safety and social order,” he said.
Yesterday marked exactly a week since police fired tear gas on protesters in an effort to disperse them, but only adding sympathy to their cause and boosting numbers.
“I saw police transporting bags of supplies that looked like riot gear into government headquarters,” said Ivan Ha, a psychology student. “But despite that, I’m going to stay until real dialogue happens, hopefully with CY [Leung].”
Student leaders said early yesterday that they were willing to enter into negotiations with the government if certain conditions were met.
They had earlier scrapped an offer of talks over anger at police for failing to protect them from violence.
Sporadic clashes have broken out, mainly in the Kowloon district of Mong Kok , with democracy activists claiming that agitators from the city’s triad mobs are being paid to attack demonstrators.
Hong Kong’s main student union, HKFS, said in a statement: “The government should investigate why the police were so lax in enforcement, accusations of helping criminals and to give an explanation to the public as soon as possible. As long as the government responds to the above, the students are willing to talk again.”
Violence flared anew in the early hours of yesterday in Mong Kok as riot police used batons and pepper spray to fight back demonstrators, who accused officers of cooperating with gangsters.
Hong Kong Police Senior Superintendent Patrick Kwok (郭柏聰) defended the use of the spray, while Hong Kong Financial Secretary John Tsang (曾俊華) said the government had “no experience and psychological preparation” for the extent of the Occupy movement.
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