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HONG KONG (UPDATED) – Hong Kong student leaders said Wednesday, October 22, they may shun further talks with the government, accusing it of failing to make any meaningful offers to end weeks of mass pro-democracy rallies and roadblocks.
The comments are a blow to the city’s Beijing-backed leaders who had expressed hopes for fresh rounds of talks after meeting face-to-face with students on Tuesday night, October 21, for the first time.
The negotiations are widely seen as the only way to end nearly a month of protests – calling for full democracy in the semi-autonomous southern Chinese city – without a police crackdown or further violence.
Fresh confrontations broke out Wednesday afternoon between protesters and opponents who tried to remove demonstrators’ barricades in the Mongkok district.
The first talks on Tuesday night made little headway, with students calling the government “vague” in its commitment to finding a genuine compromise.
“About whether there will be talks in the future, this is something that isn’t decided,” Hong Kong Federation of Students secretary general Alex Chow told reporters Wednesday morning.
“The government has to come up with some way to solve this problem, but what they are offering does not have any practical content,” Chow said, adding protesters will not leave the streets any time soon.
The two sides are at loggerheads over how the city’s next leader should be chosen in 2017, when a direct election for the post will be introduced.
Protesters want the public to have the right to nominate candidates.
But Beijing ruled in August that only those vetted by a loyalist committee would be allowed to stand – something protesters dismiss as “fake democracy”.
During talks, government negotiators insisted Beijing would never agree to civil nomination.
But they made a series of conciliatory offers including a promise to brief mainland officials on recent events and a suggestion both sides could set up a “platform” to discuss further political reform beyond 2017.
Student leaders remain unimpressed, saying the government has offered nothing concrete.
They called on officials to give a clearer indication of what their proposals actually entail.
A crowd of about 70 protesters marched on the residence of Hong Kong’s current leader Leung Chun-ying in the afternoon, angered over his recent comments that open elections would put voting power into the hands of people “who earn less than US$1,800 a month”.
“We want to protect the welfare and the rights of grassroots people in Hong Kong,” Avery Ng, vice president of the League of Social Democrats, told Agence France-Presse on the march.
But the ongoing protests have led to angry confrontations between local residents fed up with the disruption caused by blockades of several main roads.
In Mongkok, which has previously seen frequent violent scuffles, opponents of the protesters tried to pull down barricades and place them in a garbage truck.
A handful of taxis were also parked on a nearby street protesting against the roadblocks.
A number of businesses – including a taxi driver association – successfully applied to the High Court to have injunctions brought against the protesters. But given that the camps are already considered illegal it remains to be seen what effect those injunctions will have.
The talks were abruptly cancelled earlier this month and then resurrected after recent outbreaks of violence between protesters and police. Observers hope they can find some sort of face-saving compromise for both sides.
If talks are abandoned, many fear a return to violent scuffles seen late last week with dozens injured after demonstrators battled police as they tried to clear barriers. – Rappler.com