Pro-democracy protesters have demanded that Hong Kong’s leader meet them and threatened wider actions if he does not, after he said China would not budge in its decision to limit voting reforms in the Asian financial hub.
Chief executive Leung Chun-ying’s rejection of the demands dashed hopes for a quick resolution to the five-day stand-off which has blocked city streets, forcing some schools and offices to close.
The Hong Kong Federation of Students, the organiser of the university class boycotts that led to the street protests, said it was considering various options, including widening the protests, pushing for a labour strike and possibly occupying a government building.
Mr Leung’s blunt rejection of the demands from the students, who are pushing for him to step down, comes as no surprise. The Chinese communist leadership is wary of conciliatory moves that might embolden dissidents and separatists on the mainland.
Hong Kong police continued a light-handed approach to the protests, having shifted tactics on Monday after their use of tear gas and pepper spray over the weekend failed to drive out tens of thousands of people occupying streets near the government headquarters. The sit-ins instead spread to the financial district and other areas.
The protesters want a reversal of a decision by China’s government in August that a pro-Beijing panel will screen all candidates in the territory’s first direct elections, scheduled for 2017 – a move they view as reneging on a promise that the chief executive would be chosen through “universal suffrage”.
Occupy Central, a wider civil disobedience movement, said in a tweet that the deadline set by the pro-democracy protesters includes a demand for genuine democracy and for Mr Leung’s resignation. It said it would announce new civil disobedience plans shortly.
China’s government takes a hard line against any threat to its monopoly on power and has condemned the protests as illegal. So far, however, it has not overtly intervened, leaving Hong Kong authorities to handle the situation under the “one country, two systems” arrangement that guaranteed the former British colony separate legal and economic systems and Western-style civil liberties after China took control in 1997.
Hong Kong’s free Press and social media give the protesters exposure that could help prevent China from cracking down in the same way it has on restive minorities and dissidents living on the mainland, where public dissent is often harshly punished.
Despite Mr Leung’s urgings that they disperse, thousands of people – many of them university and high school students, some doing homework – gathered on a major road next to the local government headquarters.
Even larger crowds are expected today, China’s National Day holiday. The government said it was cancelling a fireworks display marking the holiday.