HK students on week-long strike for reform

HK students on week-long strike for reform
Students gather during a strike at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on September 22, 2014.

With yellow ribbons on their chests and idealism on their sleeves, thousands of university students walked out of their classrooms and into a week-long campaign of protests and rallies to agitate for greater democracy.

Students from 25 universities and colleges packed a 9km-long tree-lined boulevard at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where banners such as "Fight against what we resist, fight for what we want" were strung up.

Organisers claim that 13,000 people turned up.

Yesterday marked the first day of their class boycott to protest against Beijing's strict rules for universal suffrage in Hong Kong's constitutional reform, which mean the central government picks candidates for the post of Chief Executive, whom the people will elect in 2017.

This was as Hong Kong's wealthiest and most powerful - its tycoons - met Chinese President Xi Jinping yesterday, a rare meeting that usually takes place when the city is in turmoil. Mr Xi said Beijing's policy towards the city "has not been changed and will not be changed".

In the meantime, pro-democracy activists hope the student protests will help build momentum for a wider march on China's National Day next Wednesday, which could lead to the start of the civil disobedience movement Occupy Central, a sit-in in Hong Kong's financial district.

"We will never bow to fate and we will take our future back," said Mr Alex Chow, secretary-general of the Federation of Students, an umbrella group of student unions and a boycott organiser. He asked Hong Kongers to reject Beijing's decision, saying accepting it will mean the city is starting its democratic process "on the wrong foot".

Hong Kong University English-language undergraduate Thomas Li, 18, who was there with his friends, said: "The power of the students may not be enough to alter Beijing's decision. But if we don't do anything today, our future will be even more dire."

Also present were teachers supporting the students. Some 100 academics will give public lectures on topics such as opposition movements in eastern Europe. These will be held at Tamar park beside the government headquarters in Admiralty, where students adjourned to last night.

But sceptics say such actions are unlikely to sway Beijing. Mr Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People's Congress, China's legislature, has told Hong Kong lawmakers street protests will not persuade Beijing to allow the city greater democracy.

Those more optimistic, however, note that it has given way in the face of popular opposition before. In 2003, half a million people marched against a national security law, which was scrapped. Two years ago, a planned national education curriculum was also dropped after student protests.

On whether protests could, in effect, lead to a backlash and result in Beijing's tighter control over the city, student Rachel Ma, 18, said she is sanguine that "China won't take stronger actions because the world, including foreign investors, is watching".

This article was first published on September 23, 2014.
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