Occupy Central

Police pepper spray Hong Kong activists at electoral reform talk as students plan rally

Scuffles and protests as Li Fei explains Beijing's decision to impose tough restrictions on 2017 chief executive election model

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 12:29pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 7:52pm

Police on Monday used pepper spray to disperse pro-democracy activists who stormed past security staff at a venue where a senior mainland official was explaining Beijing’s decision to impose tough restrictions on the 2017 chief executive election.

Watch: Protesters and lawmakers react to Beijing's dictum on leadership reform

Scuffles had broken out at the entrance to the centre where Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, was speaking.

Watch: Hong Kong pan-democrats in fightback after China NPC decision

Pro-democracy activists inside the building heckled Li, shouting slogans and interrupting his speech explaining Beijing’s decision, announced on Sunday, to rule out a fully democratic election for the city’s next leader in 2017.

Dressed in black and wearing yellow ribbons, members of the democratic camp were escorted out of the auditorium after they shouted and held up signs reading “shameful” and saying Beijing had lost credibility.

Pro-establishment people in the crowd clapped as the democrats were led out. About 100 activists had gathered for Li’s speech, some waving British colonial flags and banners with an “X” over the Chinese characters for “communism” amid a heavy police presence.

A group of Beijing loyalists stood nearby waving China’s flag.

Alex Chow, the head of the Federation of Students, was escorted out jeering and heckling.

Watch: Protesters clash with police during Beijing official's meeting in Hong Kong

He said students from 11 colleges and universities will rally outside government headquarters in Admiralty during their strike later this month and urged Hongkongers to stick together to bring democracy to the city.

Chow said he hoped several thousands would join the strike and come to Civic Square outside government buildings.

The forecourt, a popular protest spot, was closed for renovations by the government in July.

“If we go out on the street and protest … [Beijing] can either crack down on us or change its proposal to give us real democracy,” he said.

Watch: Occupy Central leaders promise civil disobedience campaign in Hong Kong

Chow accepted that the strike itself would not change Beijing’s mind immediately, but said it could drive more Hongkongers to come forward and call for a democratic system for the 2017 chief executive election.

Scholarism’s Joshua Wong Chi-fung said he was disappointed by the restrictive framework for the election set out by Beijing on Sunday.

Wong said the plan was even less democratic than proposals put forward by the pro-Beijing camp in Hong Kong and “moderates”.

“We’re disappointed but we do not feel hopeless. The framework is not even close to what the academics and the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong have proposed,” he told RTHK.

“The moderate pan-democrats are a lot more disappointed than we are. A year ago they could still say that there is room for negotiation. But not now.”

The framework, approved unanimously by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, allows only two or three candidates to run. They will need approval from a majority of a 1,200-strong nominating committee.

Methods for electing the committee, its composition and size will be “in accordance with” those of the election committee that decided the 2012 poll. It will be divided between four sectors and largely chosen by about 250,000 individual and corporate voters in dozens of subsectors.

Watch: Scholarism protest against NPC decision outside of Beijing official Li Fei's hotel on Sunday

Local government officials will fight to win over the five pan-democratic lawmakers they need to win a two-thirds majority for the official reform package in the Legislative Council. But all 27 pan-democrats yesterday said they would vote against any plan based on Beijing’s framework.

Occupy Central leaders said they would begin a series of protests culminating with 10,000 people blocking streets in the heart of the city.

Wong said it would be more difficult to organise strikes among secondary school students, but he hoped hundreds would take part.

Elsewhere, the student union of Chinese University said it would start mobilising students to boycott classes at the end of the month. Members of the union distributed leaflets and yellow ribbons, a symbol of the democracy movement, to students on the first day of classes to promote the non-cooperation movement.

There were mixed views among students over the planned strike.

“We have to state our position clearly even if [boycotting classes] may not work,” said freshman Felix Chow Hiu-laam, who studies sociology.

Pau Ming-tat, who majors in Japanese studies, said: “Boycotting classes is too radical. There is no need to sacrifice school time.”

The university’s vice chancellor Professor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu appealed for respect of students’ right to continue taking classes during the strike.