Hong Kong protesters to hold street vote
HONG KONG (UPDATED) – Hong Kong's democracy activists are planning a street vote to gauge protesters' views on conciliatory offers from the government, as the city's former leader on Friday called on them to clear the streets.
The leaders of the mass demonstrations that have paralyzed parts of the city for nearly a month said they will poll demonstrators at the main protest camp opposite government headquarters for two days starting Sunday evening.
During face-to-face talks Tuesday with student leaders, government negotiators offered to write a report to mainland Chinese authorities detailing protester sentiments.
They also suggested both sides could set up a joint committee to discuss further political reform beyond the next leadership elections in 2017.
Protest leaders initially dismissed the offers as lacking substance but have since decided to conduct a straw poll of voters to decide on their next move.
Founder of pro-democracy group Occupy Central Benny Tai said the poll, which will take place on Sunday and Monday from 7pm to 11pm, is not concerned with a protest retreat.
"The purpose of the poll is to provide a way for the participants of the umbrella movement to respond to the two suggestions provided by the government and to pressure the authorities," Tai told protesters in the main protest area of Admiralty late Friday.
Tai said the report to Chinese authorities must express the view that the National People's Congress, China's legislature, should rescind their decision on Hong Kong's constitutional reform made late August.
Beijing has insisted that Hong Kong's next leader be vetted by a loyalist committee ahead of the 2017 election.
The joint committee suggested by the government must also talk about how to include civil nominations for the 2017 chief executive election, Tai said.
Plans for the vote came as former leader Tung Chee-hwa called the protests a "gross violation", warning that the consequences of continuing the rallies beyond a month were "very serious".
Tung was Hong Kong's first chief executive after the 1997 handover and was himself ousted after huge protests.
"We need to end this occupation because not only... is it hurting the livelihood of people but it's a gross violation of the law," Tung told reporters in his first public comments since the protests began nearly 4 weeks ago.
Protesters unlikely to listen
One pro-democracy lawmaker dismissed Tung's comments, saying they would have little impact on predominantly young protesters who have no respect for a former leader known for his consistently pro-Beijing politics.
"They (the government) are acting out of desperation if they felt Tung Chee-hwa just might command some moral or ideological authority over the general population here. That's more than a myth, it's just a joke," lawmaker Claudia Mo told Agence France-Presse.
Tung also lent his support to the city's embattled leader Leung Chun-ying.
"During this time where there are many risks, I feel he has performed very well and has also gained the trust of the Chinese government," he said
Tung had his own share of troubles in handling pro-democracy protests when 500,000 people took part in a rally against a proposed national security bill in 2003, forcing his administration to shelve it.
It was a key factor in his resignation 18 months later.
A United Nations rights watchdog on Thursday pressed Hong Kong to enact democratic reforms, saying moves so far fell short of what was needed.
But China and Hong Kong both brushed the criticism aside.
"China is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights...the convention is not a standard by which Hong Kong's development can be judged," Chinese Ministry Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
Hong Kong authorities reiterated universal suffrage would only be implemented in accordance with Beijing's decision.
In the city Friday, firemen removed a 28-meter protest banner that read "I want genuine universal suffrage" from the peak of Lion Rock Mountain, with the government saying it "would have posed a danger to public safety if it had been blown off by strong wind".
Fresh scuffles also broke out in the afternoon between protesters and a group of masked men who tried to pull down barricades in the densely packed working-class district Mongkok, which has seen some of the worst violence. – Rappler.com