Hong Kong protest leaders ridicule 'external forces' claim

Hong Kong protest leaders ridicule 'external forces' claim
Student leader Joshua Wong listens to a question from a reporter at a pro-democracy protest outside the central government offices in Hong Kong.

HONG KONG - Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders Monday angrily rejected claims by the city's chief executive that "external forces" are orchestrating their mass rallies, ahead of talks intended to end three weeks of political stalemate. The denials came as the United States - the implicit target of previous foreign meddling allegations by Beijing - also denied any involvement in stirring up tensions in the financial hub.

In a television interview broadcast Sunday evening, embattled city leader Leung Chun-ying blamed foreign forces for the ongoing protests but refused to identify them.

The claims sparked ridicule from democracy leaders in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, who insist their movement is fuelled by local demands for greater democratic freedoms and growing discontent at increased inequality.

In a sarcastic post on his Facebook page Monday, teenage student leader Joshua Wong said: "My links with foreign countries are limited to my Korean cellphone, my American computer and my Japanese Gundam (an animated series featuring robots). And of course, all of these are 'Made in China.'"

Claudia Mo, a prominent pro-democracy lawmaker, accused the Hong Kong government of smear tactics.

"They cannot succumb to the protesters and say 'Maybe we should make concessions?' so instead they have to blacken and smear this campaign. It's all very dirty," she told AFP.

The city's US consulate also hit out at the claims, according to the South China Morning Post.

"What is happening in Hong Kong is about the people of Hong Kong, and any assertion otherwise is an attempt to distract from the issue at hand," the paper quoted consulate spokesman Scott Robinson as saying.

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