Hong Kong democracy protests fade, face test of stamina

Hong Kong democracy protests fade, face test of stamina

HONG KONG - Pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong rolled into early Tuesday with hundreds of students remaining camped out in the heart of the city after more than a week of rallies and behind-the-scenes talks showing modest signs of progress.

Student-led protesters early on Monday lifted a blockade of government offices that had been the focal point of their action, initially drawing tens of thousands onto the streets. Civil servants were allowed to pass through the protesters' barricades unimpeded.

Several streets through downtown Hong Kong, which houses offices for international banks, luxury malls and the main stock exchange, remained barricaded and vehicle-free, although pedestrians could walk freely through the area.

Over the past week, tens of thousands of protesters have demanded that the city's Beijing-appointed leader Leung Chun-ying quit and that China allow Hong Kong people the right to vote for a leader of their choice in 2017 elections.

The stalemate appeared late on Monday to be nearing a potential turning point, however, when a senior official said formal talks to address the protesters' demands and end the demonstrations may begin later in the week.

After preparatory discussions with student representatives on Monday night, Lau Kong-wah, the Hong Kong government's Undersecretary of Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, said both sides had agreed on general principles for the formal talks.

"I think today's meeting was successful and progress has been made," he told reporters.

"We both hope to hold these discussions soon as possible and we hope that we will be able to begin them within this week."

The 'Occupy Central' protests, an idea conceived over a year ago, have presented Beijing with one of its biggest political challenges since it crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in and around Tiananmen Square in the Chinese capital in 1989.

Facing separatist unrest in far-flung Tibet and Xinjiang, Beijing fears that calls for democracy in Hong Kong could spread to the mainland. The Communist Party leadership has dismissed the Hong Kong protests as illegal but has left Leung's government to find a solution.

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