Protestors at odds over pull-back plan
Hong Kong's pro-democracy activists agreed yesterday to remove some barriers blocking roads and sidewalks ahead of the government's deadline to scale back their protests. But the demonstrators appeared to be divided, and others refused to budge, with only hours to go.
An alliance of students said it had tried, but so far failed to reach agreement with officials on a plan to begin talks on their demands for wider political reforms. The group vowed to continue protests until details of the talks might be worked out.
"If the government uses force to clear away protesters, there will be no room for dialogue," Lester Shum, one of the group's leaders, told reporters.
Earlier in the day, students occupying the area just outside city government headquarters agreed to remove some barricades that were blocking the building's entrance, after the government said it would do whatever was necessary to ensure 3,000 civil servants would have full access to their offices today.
The partial withdrawal appeared to be part of a strategy to regroup in another part of town, as protesters were urged to shift from other areas to Hong Kong's Admiralty shopping and business district, a central location near the government's main offices that has served as an informal headquarters for the protests.
Alex Chow, another student leader, said he was not worried about the crowd dwindling as people prepared to return to work and school today.
"Because people need rest, but they will come out again. It doesn't mean the movement is diminishing. Many people still support it," Chow said.
Officials said they intended to have key streets open for schools and offices by this morning, but it was unclear whether they would act to clear the streets and other areas by force or just settle for a partial victory in clearing some roads. The government announced a reopening of schools and some roads, but indicated some disruptions were likely to continue.
"To restore order, we are determined, and we are confident we have the capability to take any necessary action," police spokesman Steve Hui said. "There should not be any unreasonable, unnecessary obstruction by any members of the public."
"I'm against any kind of withdrawal or tendency to surrender," said Do Chan, a protester in his 30s. "I think withdrawing, I mean shaking hands with the police, is a very ugly gesture of surrender."
The situation remained volatile across the harbour in Hong Kong's Mong Kok district, a shopping area where ugly confrontations broke out Friday and Saturday after opponents of the protesters tried to force them out. Many demonstrators heeded calls to head home or shift to the Admiralty area. A few hundred, however, appeared determined to stay. As the evening wore on, some sang songs and clapped, while groups of older men lingered nearby, smoking and drinking, as police stood watch.
In Mong Kok late yesterday, police officers carrying guns patrolled the area, and at least one officer was seen carrying tear gas canisters. Tens of thousands of people, many of them students, have poured into the streets of the semi-autonomous city since September 28 to peacefully protest China's restrictions on the first-ever direct election for Hong Kong's leader, promised by Beijing for 2017. The protests are the strongest challenge to authorities in Hong Kong - and in Beijing - since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.