HONG KONG - Hong Kong's former leader Friday urged democracy demonstrators to leave the streets calling their protest a "gross violation" as he warned the consequences of continuing the rallies beyond a month were "very serious".
Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's first chief executive after the 1997 handover who was himself ousted after huge protests, said the movement needed to be brought peacefully to an end.
"We need to end this occupation because not only is it hurting livelihood of people but it's a gross violation of the law," Tung told reporters during his first public comments since the protests began nearly four weeks ago.
"One month is a long time already and the consequences of prolonging this occupation is very, very serious," he said of the movement's impact on the city's economy.
Parts of the city have been paralysed by 27 days of mass rallies and road blocks calling on Beijing to rescind its insistence that Hong Kong's next leader be vetted by a loyalist committee ahead of the 2017 elections.
Tung also lent his support to the city's embattled leader Leung Chun-ying.
"What he is looking for is a peaceful ending to the occupation, he is very calm and rational in dealing with this issue," he said.
"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." 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 eighteen months later.
Plans for protester poll
Hong Kong student leaders said Wednesday they may not take part in further talks with the government after accusing city authorities of failing to make any meaningful offers during the first round of talks on Tuesday.
During the discussions officials said there was still room to make the candidate vetting committee more democratic, without giving further details.
They also said they would brief Beijing on recent events and suggested both sides could set up a committee to discuss further political reform beyond 2017.
The movement's leaders said Thursday they were planning to conduct a poll of demonstrators at the city's main protest camp to decide what their response should be to the government's offers.
The poll will take place on Sunday evening at the main site opposite the city's government headquarters with further details expected to be released later Friday.
Tung called for both sides to continue talks as soon as possible.
"The best solution is to have the students and the government to continue to have dialogue, and not to have any pre-conditions, then the chance of success for the dialogue would be very big," he said.
"The students must understand that to go against the Basic Law (Hong Kong's mini-constitution) and to go against the decision of the National People's Congress, it cannot be done." China's National People's Congress (NPC) ruled in late August that candidates for the 2017 polls will be vetted by a committee, expected to be loyal to Beijing. Democracy activists have called the arrangement "fake democracy".