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No new offers on table for talks, and no end in sight to protests

Officials thought they'd dangled enough to give student leaders a way out, but federation denies it had signalled acceptance, and say sit-ins go on

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 October, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

Officials are pessimistic about prospects for narrowing their differences with student protest leaders, saying they gave all they could in Tuesday's meeting.

A government source said the administration had got the impression through middlemen that the pledges offered in the televised meeting would give students a way out to retreat from protest sites.

But the Federation of Students said the offers - to submit a report to the State Council, China's cabinet, to reflect latest public sentiment and consider setting up a platform for dialogue on constitutional development - were not enough.

"The two measures are [the best] we could offer under the political and constitutional constraints," the source said. "We conveyed the ideas to student leaders through middlemen before the talk and got positive feedback from them."

The students meanwhile accused the government of trying to "spin" a perception that they had created the deadlock by changing their minds.

This came after a person familiar with the situation, speaking anonymously, said: "It seems the students have changed their stance and are asking for more from the government. It wouldn't help even if both sides hold another 10 rounds of talks."

Federation secretary general Alex Chow Yong-kang said the students had never conveyed any message to any middlemen that they would retreat if the government was willing to submit the suggested report to Beijing.

Chow also dismissed suggestions that there were many middlemen between the federation and the government. "There were people who did not talk to us but talked to others instead and they may have misunderstood us," he said.

"To say we are changing our minds is only a government spinning strategy trying to influence public perception."

Chow said the federation had made it clear that the government should either accept its demand for public nomination in 2017 or lay down a timetable and road map for a democratic nomination procedure.

The students had also called for the government to submit a supplementary report to the National People's Congress Standing Committee to reflect public opinion since August when the committee set the framework for the 2017 chief executive election that triggered the protests.

The government suggested on Tuesday it could instead submit a report to the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, which would fall outside a five-step process laid down by the standing committee.

The federation, which advocates public nomination of chief executive candidates, said the government's proposals failed to meet its demands and rejected its call to end the sit-in.

Meanwhile, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said during an interview with four news agencies on Tuesday that there was room for discussion on how to elect the 1,200-strong nominating committee that will name the candidates for the 2017 chief executive election.

"There's room to make the nominating committee more democratic, and this is one of the things we very much want to talk to not just the students but the community at large about," he said.

He said the government could consider changes to the nomination process such as replacing corporate votes with individual ballots in the nominating committee. The standing committee ruled in August the four-sector nominating committee must be based on the 1,200-strong body that selected Leung in 2012.

While the 70 lawmakers are ex officio members of the committee, the electorate for the rest consists of just 250,000 individuals, corporations and groups.

Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said the restrictions imposed by the standing committee made genuine universal suffrage impossible.

"It's meaningless to turn corporate votes into individual votes," he said.

Additional reporting by Shirley Zhao