Hong Kong’s leader says he is ready to start talks as soon as next week with leaders of the pro-democracy protests that have rocked the territory for nearly three weeks.
Chief executive Leung Chun-ying said officials have been negotiating with the students through middlemen in the past few days, and authorities are ready to hold talks on democratic reform.
Authorities angered protesters last week when they called off a scheduled meeting with student leaders, saying talks were unlikely to produce constructive results.
The demonstrators have taken to the streets since September 26 to oppose the Chinese central government’s decision to screen candidates to run in the territory’s first direct elections in 2017.
Mr Leung’s announcement came after police again scuffled with protesters camped out in Hong Kong’s streets.
There was no immediate response from the student leaders, and it is unclear whether the proposed meeting can overcome the vast differences between the two sides.
Many in Hong Kong were outraged after a group of police officers were caught on camera early on Wednesday apparently beating a protester with his hands cuffed behind his back.
The seven officers, who have been suspended, were among hundreds battling with activists for two nights in a row over control of a busy road next to city government headquarters and near the protesters’ main occupation zone.
Tensions between the two sides have escalated in the past few days as riot police armed with pepper spray and batons moved to retake some occupied streets.
“As long as students or other sectors in Hong Kong are prepared to focus on this issue, yes we are ready, we are prepared to start the dialogue,” Mr Leung told reporters, adding that officials had been in touch with student protest leaders to convey the government’s wishes.
The protesters have taken over major roads and streets in business and shopping districts across the city since September 28 to press for a greater say in choosing the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s leader in an inaugural direct election, promised for 2017.