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Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying yesterday sent his strongest warning yet to Occupy Central organisers planning a civil disobedience campaign, saying there was "no possibility" it could be lawful or peaceful, and that it would be tolerated by neither the government nor courts.
Leung's warning drew an angry response from the organisers, who accused him of smearing their campaign. But veteran China-watcher Ching Cheong feared that the action planned for next year could result in bloodshed similar to that of Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Leung's remark came on the same day that almost 700 supporters of the plan attended its first "deliberation day", on the University of Hong Kong's campus. They have agreed on seven priorities for the campaign, including elevating it to "a movement of all classes".
The plan, coined "Occupy Central with Love and Peace", was first proposed by HKU law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting in the wake of the city's upcoming political reform, which is expected to set out the rules for the election of the chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017. It has threatened a road blockade of 10,000 protesters in the heart of the city by July next year to fight for democracy.
"To organise unlawful activities that disrupt law and order [at this stage without an electoral reform proposal] leads one to question the motive: is it breaking the law for the sake of it?" Leung said, before leaving on his first official visit to the US.
He urged the protesters to come up with a proposal, and insisted that the government was determined to enforce the law against any illegal acts.
"Once the occupy action takes place … there will be no possibility of it being lawful or peaceful," he said. "The government will not tolerate law-breaking activities."
Tai said the warning was "totally inappropriate" and they would stick to a non-violent approach in their civil disobedience. "I would like him to point out to us what kind of things we have done so far that are illegal, or not peaceful, or violent in nature?"
Ching, who appeared yesterday as a supporter of the plan, warned the participants to be "mentally prepared" that the movement could end up as a replay of the pro-democracy movement in Beijing in 1989.
"The central government could be ready for any suppression towards the Occupy Central plan, given the background that the People's Liberation Army has recently conducted military drills in Hong Kong," he said.
Former legislator Allen Lee Peng-fei agreed that bloodshed "was possible". He said: "At the moment no one could assess what will happen."
Chinese University professor Chan Kin-man, who is another core organiser of the plan, believed they were now the No 1 enemies of both the central and Hong Kong governments, although they were advocating a peaceful protest.
"I do not see how it is necessary at all to use the PLA to suppress our movement. Instead, they should think about how to respond to the requests of hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people who demand genuine universal suffrage," Chan said.
In the first of the three "deliberation days" yesterday, supporters of the plan - including lawmakers from the pro-democracy camp - set out the agenda of the movement and outlined seven priorities.
The second event is planned for October.