A city divided: Occupy protest and rally by opponents mark a society split by politics
Rancour and division after a month of political turmoil crystallised last night as thousands of pro- and anti-Occupy Central protesters gathered on opposite sides of Victoria Harbour to vent their frustrations.
The gatherings - one at the newly dubbed "Umbrella Square'' and the other at the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower - came as Occupy leaders geared up to poll supporters on the way forward while anti-Occupy activists began a signature campaign to end the protests and back the police.
The Alliance for Peace and Democracy said it had collected 321,827 signatures. Food and Health Secretary Dr Ko Wing-man and other senior officials said they would also sign it.
Spokesman Robert Chow Yung urged protesters to retreat: "They are ignoring the rule of law and disrupting public order. ... Is that democracy?"
Last night's anti-Occupy gathering in Tsim Sha Tsui - which included "blue ribbon" activists - was marred by attacks on reporters and cameramen.
A woman RTHK reporter was dragged to the ground while a male TVB reporter had his glasses knocked off and tie pulled at.
"They punched and kicked my back and grabbed my tie," the TVB reporter, John Sin, said.
As a crowd surrounded them calling them "traitors", one cameraman was grabbed by the neck and another was pushed to the ground. All were scratched around their torsos and faces.
The stations condemned the violence and RTHK said it would boycott "blue ribbon" events to safeguard staff safety.
Leticia Lee See-yin, of the Justice Alliance that helped organise the Tsim Sha Tsui event, condemned the attackers but said they were individual events.
Yesterday also saw Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in damage control as he sought to explain his controversial comments last week on the electoral rights of the poor.
In comments to international media, Leung had said a nominating committee was necessary to prevent a "numbers game"' in which chief executive hopefuls would be talking to "half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month".
Yesterday, Leung said: "The Basic Law has clearly stipulated an electoral system that embraces balanced participation. I have repeatedly told the media that 'balanced participation' did not mean slanting towards any sector or class."
He said the establishment of an official poverty line was proof his administration cared about the poor. But his efforts to cool the controversy were in vain.
In an interview with the Chinese-language daily Ming Pao, former chief secretary David Akers-Jones - a heavyweight Leung supporter in the 2012 election - said Leung's remarks were "hasty and rash" and could amplify existing societal conflicts.
Nobel economics prize laureate Paul Krugman weighed in earlier, describing Leung's stance as a strategy "for protecting plutocrats from the mob" in his New York Times column.
The Alliance for Defending the Grassroots Housing Rights is launching a non-cooperation campaign calling on public housing tenants to delay payment of their rents to express their discontent over reform.
Meanwhile, Occupy organisers and the Federation of Students yesterday appealed for protesters to join electronic ballots today and tomorrow.
Two motions will be put forward. The first asks whether the National People's Congress Standing Committee should withdraw its earlier decision to limit candidates for the 2017 chief executive election.
The second asks if the multiparty platform for constitutional reform that the local government has suggested should affirm the abolition of functional constituencies in the legislature in 2016 and public nomination for the chief executive the year after.
Some protesters said they would not vote. " "The items of the referendum are the reasons why we are here. I think the vote is meaningless," said Leonard Yuen, 19, who has been at the Admiralty sit-in since it began on September 28. But Occupy Central organiser Benny Tai Yiu-ting said protesters could still make good use of the ballots.
Basic Law Committee member and legal scholar Albert Chen Hung-yee warned that the vote could end badly despite the organisers' good intentions.
It was legally possible yet politically impossible for the NPC to amend its decision, he said.
The Federation of Students yesterday also put forward a way to trigger a referendum on political reform - by having pan-democrat lawmakers resign so as to prompt by-elections, as the Civic Party and the League of Social Democrats did in 2010.