Three protesters swallowed spoonfuls of porridge to bring a poignant end to a 16-day hunger strike for democracy yesterday.
The three, the last of 17 pan-democrats who began the strike, opted last week to extend their fast until yesterday to coincide with talks between lawmakers and Beijing officials in Shanghai.
By the 2pm finish, Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai, fellow Democrat Andrew Wan Siu-kin and the Labour Party's Alex Kwok Siu-kit had completed the longest recorded hunger strike in Hong Kong, surviving for 384 hours on nothing but water, sports drinks and glucose supplements.
After a ceremonial countdown in the blazing sun, the three gulped down bowls of watery porridge, cooked by Wu's wife. But that might not be the end of their struggle
"We've all lost 20-something pounds [more than 9kg] and are quite sick of Pocari Sweat," said Kwok, head of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Lifeguards' Union. "We will stop temporarily and, if necessary, we will come out to fight again."
Despite mockery from radical pan-democrats, who wanted the strikers to exist on water alone, and a somewhat tepid public response, lawmaker Wu said the strike "achieved its basic effects".
"We have shown the public that there are people who will struggle and be willing to make sacrifices," said Wu. "To achieve real universal suffrage, realistically, everyone has to act. We can't just talk about it."
The strikers are demanding an electoral system for the 2017 poll under which critics of Beijing would not be "screened out" of standing for chief executive.
He said the strike prompted 110 letters of intent to join Occupy Central's plan to block roads unless the government comes up with an acceptable electoral reform proposal. There were also 1,000 letters in support of a nomination system for 2017 - under which the public and parties would choose candidates, as well as a nominating committee - and the abolition of functional Legislative Council constituencies.
The protest, outside the HSBC building on Queen's Road, Central, began on March 28.
Labour's Lee Cheuk-yan, who helped co-ordinate the fast, said a second hunger strike would take place next month, although the location may change after the bank issued a summons against the protesters last week.
Among those who came to support the strikers yesterday were Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun and Occupy Central founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting. Lawmakers Sin Chung-kai and Frederick Fung Kin-kee phoned the strikers from Shanghai to show support.
The previous longest hunger strike in Hong Kong was in 2000, when Father Franco Mella survived on water for 11 days to seek the release of 29 mainland right-of-abode seekers.