POLITICS
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Occupy Central

Students federation opens talks, but says protests continue

Meeting to arrange talks with chief secretary doesn't bring agreement, and Admiralty sit-in continues despite warning it will be cleared by force

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 October, 2014, 5:31am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 October, 2014, 2:06pm

The Federation of Students last night began preparatory talks for a meeting with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, but said its members would continue the protests that have paralysed parts of Hong Kong for a week.

That was despite Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying setting a deadline of 4am today for protesters to stop blocking access to government headquarters in Admiralty, or "appropriate force" would be used.

While the protesters vacated two lanes of Lung Wo Road, the main artery leading to the government offices, footbridges remained mostly blocked.

Live coverage for Occupy Central

The developments came after political, social and religious leaders called on protesters to step back from confrontation with police.

With the eyes of the world on Hong Kong, some governments have called on the administration to show restraint. But a senior US government official was quoted by The New York Times as saying Washington would not "get into the middle of this".

He said the US knew it had little leverage over China when it came to Hong Kong and Beijing had repeatedly told the US to mind its own business.

In a rare show of unity, leaders from both political camps and other prominent figures called for calm and urged the protesters occupying "choke points" to retreat.

The protests, triggered by Beijing's announcement of a restrictive framework for the 2017 election of the chief executive by one man, one vote, were launched two weeks ago by tertiary students. They were later joined by secondary school students under the banner of Scholarism.

When they escalated last weekend Occupy Central leaders declared the civil disobedience movement had begun. Sit-ins have since blocked traffic in Admiralty and parts of Central, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.

Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa applauded the students' "great sacrifice" but said the time had now come for dialogue.

Andrew Li Kwok-nang, the widely respected former chief justice, said: "I sincerely urge the student protesters to leave immediately." Otherwise, Li said, their safety would be in danger.

Another former chief justice, Yang Ti-liang, made a similar appeal. Henry Tang Ying-yen, Leung's main rival in the 2012 chief executive election, also urged protesters to withdraw and avoid clashes.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, who had earlier visited protesters to show his support, said: "At this moment, we can make a satisfactory conclusion to our actions."

Late last night, the deputy secretary general of the Federation of Students, Lester Shum, said federation members had met undersecretary for constitutional affairs Lau Kong-wah and other officials, but they had not agreed to its conditions for talks with Lam and Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung.

"We will have to meet again … before entering into formal talks," Shum said.

A dozen young people manning the barricades on a footbridge from Admiralty Centre to government headquarters said they belonged to no group and insisted the narrow passage they left unobstructed was enough for civil servants to get to work. They said the three main groups behind the movement did not represent them.

"If we don't keep the pressure on the government, the movement will lose its meaning," said Henry Chan Kai-wing, a 29-year-old doctor.

Kitty Choi, director of administration, said: "Right now the barricades on the footbridge set up by protesters have left only a very narrow passage for staff to enter the headquarters. How can the 3,000 civil servants rely on this to get to work? I am worried it will be very congested tomorrow."

Protesters occupying a junction outside Leung's office in Tim Wa Avenue held a vote and decided to hand the site back to police as a goodwill gesture. But minutes later, the main entrance was occupied by others who refused to leave.

Occupy Central announced protesters in Mong Kok would be leaving to join the "occupation" in Admiralty. But protesters debated hotly whether they should leave amid a lack of clear leadership, and the crowd later grew.

In Causeway Bay, scores remained camped out. Philip Tsang, 34, one of the volunteers who have kept the occupation up in the absence of any Federation of Students representatives, said: "There's no leader here. Each one of us has an opinion and we don't plan to vote on the next step."

 


Key developments in occupation protests

September 24 Occupy Central organisers apply to police for sit-ins at Chater Road on October 1 and 2 and at Chater Garden from October 1 to 3. Application is widely seen as a hint that Occupy protests are about to start.

September 26 Student protesters from Federation of Students and Scholarism break from rally outside government headquarters, barge into the newly fenced-up forecourt that used to be open to the public and which is known as "Civic Square", tear down barriers around flag platform and scuffle with police. Scholarism convenor Joshua Wong Chi-fung and others are arrested.

September 27 Another 61 arrested at the flag platform. People flock to venue to support student activists. Police declare areas outside the government headquarters in Admiralty a no-go zone, but protesters ignore order.

September 28 At about 1.45am, Occupy co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting declares start of sit-in protests. Two demands are raised - the immediate withdrawal by Beijing of its ruling on Hong Kong's political reform, and a new round of public consultation. The crowd in Admiralty grows in size during the day while police block access to the sit-in zone. Clashes between protesters and police break out. Police lose control of the crowd and Harcourt Road and sections of Gloucester Road and Connaught Road Central are occupied. When pepper spray fails to stop the protesters, police begin firing tear-gas rounds. More people come out in protest against the police use of force. Protesters vow to escalate their action and student leaders call on workers to strike and shops to close, and for students to continue boycotting classes.

September 29 Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying gives a televised address, calling for calm, and dismissing rumours that the People's Liberation Army would be deployed. Occupy protests are staged in Central, Admiralty, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, and Mong Kok. The government withdraws riot police from the streets to help lower tensions. The Hang Seng Index ends down 1.94 per cent. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor hints that the government could postpone the next round of public consultation on the 2017 chief executive election. The government announces the cancellation of the National Day fireworks display on October 1.

September 30 Crowds continue to gather in the areas above. The Federation of Students threatens to step up protests if Leung does not step down by October 2. Some protesters occupy a section of Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui.

October 1 In his address at the National Day reception, Leung calls for peaceful, lawful, rational and pragmatic means in pushing forward universal suffrage. Central government liaison office director Zhang Xiaoming says "the sun rises as usual" in response to media questions about the occupations. The Federation of Students offers talks with Carrie Lam on the precondition that Leung first resigns.

October 2 Protesters besiege the Admiralty government headquarters complex, with crowds rallying outside the Chief Executive's Office. Tension mounts as police are seen carrying riot gear, possibly including rubber bullets, into the complex. Students vowed to occupy other government buildings if Leung does not resign before the end of the day. Police warn they will use force if the siege of government buildings continues. At 11.20pm, the heads of the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University arrive in Admiralty to call on students to evacuate. Around11.30 pm Leung says at a press conference that he will not resign, but appoints Lam to meet student leaders. His words are widely criticised, but a door to dialogue is opened.

October 3 In Mong Kok, hundreds of thugs storm the streets, beat up Occupy protesters and destroy their base. Reports of women being sexually harassed, and of attacks on journalists, emerge. Twenty people are arrested, some with triad backgrounds. In Causeway Bay, a group of about 20 masked men argue with protesters and remove barricades. More sexual harassment is reported. Civil servants are barred by protesters from entering the government headquarters. Principal officials work in other offices.

October 4 Security chief Lai Tung-kwok denies claims the government indulges triads that disrupted protests in Mong Kok. University of Hong Kong associate professor Law Chi-kwong says in an email to protesters "things can turn very drastic within the next couple of hours". He begs them to evacuate. Nevertheless, several thousand people attend an anti-violence rally in Admiralty organised by the Federation of Students, Scholarism and Occupy founders, where they are joined by pop singers. The federation offers to return to negotiations on condition the government investigates the claims that police indulged thugs.

October 5 Leaders across the social and political spectrum call for protesters to leave to avoid confrontation. Police say they will take "robust and firm" action in the event of violence. Some protesters retreat from entrance to Chief Executive's Office.