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More than 1,200 pupils filled Tim Mei Avenue to join the city's first large-scale secondary school strike last week. Photo: Felix Wong

Rivalry emerges as boycotting students angered by timing of Occupy protest

Hong Kong students and some organisers of a class boycott believe their movement should be independent from the Occupy Central mass sit-in, showing a divide between two groups pushing for democracy.

Some of the students say they support the boycott but not Occupy Central, which announced the start of its civil disobedience action early this morning just hours after the students’ protest at the government headquarters in Admiralty was violently dispersed.

Occupy Central co-organiser Benny Tai Yiu-ting later made the unexpected announcement at 1.45am today. The sit-in was originally expected to start on the National Day on October 1.

“The agreement between students and OC was that students would probe [test the waters] and if [the] time was right, take initiative,” reads a message tweeted by Occupy Central’s official Twitter account.

But the statement was later countered by Trey Menefee, a lecturer at the Institute of Education, who delivered a “civic lecture” during the student boycott rally.

“You make the class boycott sound less autonomous than it was,” he tweeted. “Few, if any, of the students I met thought of themselves as ‘probes’.”

“We are not in collaboration with other political groups, nor is [the movement] part of Occupy Central,” said Law Cheuk-yin, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, which had been organising the boycott and the ensuing student rallies.

The week-long student class boycott, which started on September 22, turned violent yesterday as heavily armed police used pepper spray to try to stop the young protesters from breaking in and rallying at the sealed-off “civic square”.

WATCH: Co-organiser Benny Tai declares start of Occupy's civil disobedience action

Support for the students continued to swell on Saturday and culminated around midnight as the organisers announced a turnout of more than 50,000 at the rally outside the Tamar headquarters.

Both groups are protesting against Beijing’s restrictive election reform framework, issued on August 31, which effectively barred pan-democratic candidates from running for chief executive in 2017.

The students are demanding an open nomination process for the 2017 vote and for Beijing to retract its decision.

Meanwhile, Occupy Central is making two demands: for the National People’s Congress to retract the decision and to relaunch the political reform process.

Carmen Yiu, a Baptist University marketing student, said that the youth activists were fighting for a full, direct election for the Legislative Council and open nomination for the chief executive in 2017. She said she felt these demands were closer to her heart than the Occupy organisers’ stances.

“Now Occupy is only following the students,” she said.

Yiu’s friend, Holly Ho, a journalism student at Shue Yan College, also noted: “It’s been more than a year [since Occupy Central was put forward] but nothing has happened.”

The Federation of Students always “walked the talk and took swift actions”, Ho said.

“We’re here just to support the students”, not to join Occupy Central, said three 19-year-old university students, who said they sat on Tim Mei Avenue outside the government headquarters.

The students said they were not ready to be arrested yet and might leave later – unless police started using excessive violence such as pepper spray again.

However, others saw no contradictions between Occupy Central’s stance and that of the student movement. “The nature of both [movements] are the same,” said William Chan and Jenny Wong who arrived at the rally at around 9am.

The pair said Occupy’s timing for the start of the civil disobedience movement was right because waiting a few more days could be a “blow to activists’ morale”.

Chan and Wong brought food and water in preparation for a sit-in that might last for days. “We’re prepared [to be] arrested,” said Chan, 22, who recently graduated from university.