Thousands of protesters take to streets for second night of pro-democracy demonstrations
Protests spread to several districts as leaders continue to call for chief executive's resignation and reversal of Beijing's decision on electoral reform
Huge numbers of pro-democracy protesters filled the streets of Hong Kong on Monday night as an Occupy Central organiser praised them for taking over more areas of the city than he ever envisaged.
Watch: Occupy Central leader: movement "beyond imagination" and "touching"
Benny Tai Yiu-ting delivered an emotional speech to massed ranks of protesters in Causeway Bay, in which he praised the achievements of the Occupy movement and renewed calls for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to step down.
Tai said that although the movement’s initial name was Occupy Central, Hongkongers had also succeeded in occupying Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.
Protesters massed in those areas following a chaotic night that saw authorities fail to cope with the mushrooming movement as police in riot gear used pepper spray, batons and tear gas against protesters.
Tai condemned the use of force. “People use peace and hope, while the government used tear gas and pepper spray,” he said.
Before he handed over the microphone to his fellow organiser, Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, Tai called several times for Leung to step down.
Chu also criticised the use of force on protesters. “We need to fight for real democracy and protect the students and the Hong Kong people,” he said.
Occupy co-organiser Dr Chan Kin-man earlier urged protesters to stand their ground and only retreat if police used weapons which could hurt people.
“Hongkongers are fearless towards tear gas and think it is manageable,” Chan said. “So I would not suggest protesters retreat at this moment.”
Chan said the occupation of several districts had been initiated by the people themselves and thus “it was not for Occupy Central to decide the duration of [the protest]”.
He urged the government to show sincerity for dialogue to solve the impasse.
Meanwhile, a top minister in-charge of political reform made a strong hint that the government will delay the next public consultation, which was originally scheduled to start next month.
Speaking at a press briefing, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said: “Yesterday I said we would launch the second round consultation in the near future, but having considered [the recent developments], we understand that the current social atmosphere is not good for such a consultation exercise. So we would assess the timing and situation, and launch it at an appropriate time. Our goal is still to achieve universal suffrage for the chief executive in 2017, to allow 5 million qualified citizens to [have a vote].”
When asked whether the consultation is still scheduled to start next month, Lam said she had “never publicly talked about an exact date.”
Lam also insisted that the government had “sincerely listened to public opinion” in a five-month consultation that ended in May, and reflected the opinions as they were.
“Political reform is an important matter that involves the central government, and [Beijing] has the final say on it ... We could not deviate from the national legislature’s decision made on August 31,” she added.
Protests spread overnight when thousands of demonstrators occupied main roads outside government headquarters, despite a police crackdown.
Police adopted a softer approach towards protesters on Monday after at least 46 people were injured in Sunday’s clashes, according to the Hospital Authority, including 33 men and 13 women. The injured were either in stable condition or had already been discharged following treatment, it added.
Officers downed their weapons and tried to reason with protesters to leave a protest site outside Sogo on Hennessy Road in Causeway Bay on Monday afternoon. Protesters refused to leave, however, responding with calls for the police to go on strike.
Riot police were taken off the streets “after road-blocking citizens had mostly calmed down”, the government said in a statement on its website this morning.
However, a line of riot officers standing behind their shields was spotted by a South China Morning Post photographer near the Bank of China in Admiralty at noon.
Australia and Italy have issued travel warnings, urging their citizens to stay away from protest sites. However in Causeway Bay, mainland tourists watched the protests with interest.
Jessica Jiang, aged in her 20s, arrived in Hong Kong on Sunday. She said she was not surprised by the rallies. ”I think it’s very normal,” she said. “Hong Kong is a place with freedom of speech. I pretty much agree with the protesters.”
Another tourist surnamed Li, from Inner Mongolia, said she didn’t know why people were on the streets but wanted to learn more.
Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have condemned the protests as illegal and promised firm action.
The protests were triggered by Beijing’s ruling last month that Hong Kong would be able to use one man, one vote to elect the chief executive in 2017, but only two or three candidates could run and they would need majority support from a nominating committee.