HK protesters plan fresh show of force this evening

HK protesters plan fresh show of force this evening
Police line up next to government offices in Hong Kong on October 3, 2014.

HONG KONG - Hong Kong protesters are planning a fresh show of force Friday evening after talks with the government dramatically collapsed and US lawmakers urged President Barack Obama to press concerns about the city's democracy fight with Beijing.

Crunch talks between protesters and Beijing-backed city officials were planned for Friday afternoon, but fell apart late Thursday after the government pulled out blaming student leaders for threatening to escalate demonstrations if their demands were not met.

The decision deepened the ongoing political crisis in the Asian financial hub, with no end now in sight to mass rallies that have paralysed parts of the city for nearly two weeks.

Demonstrators are calling for Beijing to grant the former British colony full democracy and for the city's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to resign.

Under plans unveiled by China in August, Hong Kongers will be able to vote for Leung's successor in 2017, but only two to three vetted candidates will be allowed to stand -- something detractors have dismissed as a "fake democracy".

Although protester numbers have dwindled in recent days, the collapse of the talks has spurred pro-democracy activists to push for new mass rallies over the weekend, with thousands expected to gather at 7.30 pm (1130 GMT) Friday outside the city's government headquarters.

The call came as protesters won powerful US backing overnight in a damning annual report from legislators condemning China's human rights record and making a highly-critical and unusual rebuke over Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong... has suffered a major setback to its democratic development after China all but ruled out a fair election for Hong Kong's chief executive in 2017," said Senator Sherrod Brown, chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

Obama, Brown added, should press Chinese President Xi Jinping directly on "issues like Hong Kong" when the leaders of the world's two major economies meet next month in Beijing.

China has repeatedly warned against any foreign government interfering in events inside the former British colony and global commerce hub, which it views as an entirely domestic issue.

Dangerous new phase

Analysts Friday warned that the collapse of the talks pushes the confrontation between democracy protests and the government into a dangerous phase with neither side willing to back down.

Sunny Lo, a political analyst at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, said the government was spooked by a promise from pan-democrat lawmakers Thursday to disrupt the workings of the government in the city's parliament, known locally as LegCo, in a show of support for protesters.

"This is not a good sign now. The temperature is rising both inside and outside LegCo," he told AFP.

"If Occupy Central movement drags on for a few more weeks I'm afraid police action would be inevitable. It would just be a matter of time," he added.

Police have largely held off trying to remove protesters from their barricades after the decision to fire teargas at demonstrators on September 28 caused widespread outrage and encouraged tens of thousands of angry residents to join the street protests.

Ed Chin, a hedge fund manager and prominent activist within the Occupy Central movement, said he had spoken with the students and the ongoing sit-ins looked set to remain a part of Hong Kong's landscape for the foreseeable future.

"The students will continue to occupy Admiralty longer than planned now," he said, referring to the downtown district where the main protest site is located.

"(It) seems like this might continue for another few weeks unless the police clear up the area by force," he added.

At the same time, opposition leaders know patience is running out among many Hong Kong citizens tired of the ongoing disruption caused by the protests.

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