Students and Hong Kong government reach breakthrough on talks to end Occupy Central stand-off
Students at forefront of protests agree to meet top government officials on Friday; Legco meeting postponed for a week amid safety fears
Students at the forefront of the pro-democracy protests that have swept the city have agreed to hold talks with top government officials including Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Friday to find a solution to the political impasse.
The agreement was reached after preliminary talks between the Federation of Students and Undersecretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Lau Kong-wah.
Lau said Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen would join Lam at the talks, which are scheduled to start at 4pm on Friday. Media coverage will be allowed, though the meeting will be closed to the public. The venue for the meeting is yet to be decided.
Despite the talks, Federation of Students' deputy leader Lester Shum said the protests would continue until there were clear signs of progress.
Shum also warned that the dialogue would end if the government took action to clear the protest sites or failed to guarantee the safety of the demonstrators, who are demanding a reversal of Beijing's decision to impose a restrictive framework for the 2017 chief executive election. They also want Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to resign, a move that Leung has repeatedly ruled out.
Shum was disappointed that the agenda for Friday's meeting would not directly address their core demands: genuine universal suffrage and public nomination of chief executive candidates.
Joshua Wong Chi-Fung, convenor of student activist group Scholarism, which along with Occupy Central and the Federation of Students is one of the main organisers of the protests, called on members of the public to gather at Harcourt Road, near the government headquarters in Admiralty, on Friday afternoon to support the students attending the dialogue with officials.
Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing announced the controversial decision yesterday after 41 pro-establishment lawmakers requested a delayed start to the first full-council meeting.
Pan-democratic legislators accused their Beijing-loyalist counterparts of trying to fuel discontent among people already inconvenienced by the civil disobedience movement.
They had planned to initiate a debate today on the government's and police's handling of the protests, including the use of tear gas to disperse crowds on the first day, September 28, and said the pro-establishment camp was trying to avoid the discussions.
Tsang said he took into account the unprecedented circumstances, under which lawmakers and officials were not guaranteed safe and unobstructed passage into the beleaguered government headquarters.
He said the Occupy action had been peaceful, but cited the sensitivity of the pan-democrats' intended debate. "The topics scheduled for debate at [the Legco] meeting may stir up the emotions of people from both sides, and is likely to draw a larger crowd into the area," he said.
Ten days after the civil disobedience action began, the city is recovering gradually.
Classes resumed at all primary schools in Wan Chai and Central and Western, a day after lessons at secondary schools in both districts restarted. But kindergartens remain closed.
Protest sites in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay were largely calm yesterday.
Tsang said it was not a good idea to ask the police to maintain order around the Legco building, as that might agitate protesters already wary of aggressive crackdowns. He promised to explore ways to put in place a better arrangement for next week.
"We are considering some ways … such as negotiating with the crowd to clear a passage for vehicles to enter the complex, or to hold the council meeting at another venue," he said.
Lawmaker Ip Kwok-him said his party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, had urged Tsang to postpone the meeting.
But Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit said the call was jointly orchestrated by the administration and pro-establishment legislators. "They are just looking for an excuse to avoid debate on the government's handling of the protests," he said.
Meanwhile, a writer going by the name Guoping published his 11th commentary on Occupy in state media. "It is only a matter of time before Occupy Central ends," Guoping wrote. "If there are still people who continue to stir up trouble, pragmatic Hongkongers will not agree to it."