HONG KONG - Students whose peaceful pro-democracy protests have gripped Hong Kong on Friday (Oct 3) agreed to hold talks with the government while vowing to continue their occupation, as the city's underfire leader refused to stand down.
Huge crowds have shut down central areas of the Chinese city with mass sit-ins all week and had set a midnight Thursday deadline for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to quit and for Beijing to guarantee the former British colony full democracy.
With his office besieged by thousands of protesters and tensions with police high, a defiant Leung appeared minutes before midnight rejecting calls to go, but offered talks to one prominent student group in a bid to break the impasse.
Hong Kong is set to return to work on Friday after a two-day public holiday, but major roads and transport routes remain crippled by the chaos.
"I will not resign because I have to continue with the work for elections," Leung said, referring to upcoming polls in 2017 which are at the centre of the ongoing confrontation between demonstrators and the Beijing-backed city authorities.
In a concession, the chief executive said he would appoint Chief Administration Secretary Carrie Lam to lead talks with the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), one of several groups behind the demonstrations in the financial hub.
In a statement released early Friday, HKFS said they would meet Lam but renewed calls for Leung's resignation, vowing to continue their occupation if their demands were not met.
"CY Leung has already lost all his integrity and betrayed people's trust in him ... His resignation is only a matter of time," HKFS said. "Hong Kong people shall continue (their) occupying movement until genuine universal suffrage comes to light." It was not clear when the talks will take place.
On Aug 31, China said Hong Kongers would be able to vote for their next chief executive, or leader, but that only candidates vetted by a loyalist committee would be allowed to stand, a decision dismissed as "fake democracy" by furious demonstrators.
The offer of dialogue appeared to mollify protest leaders, who had vowed to escalate their occupation of major sites if their demands were not met.
"It is the first time since August 31 that a minister has agreed to talk to students and citizens. This is a critical moment," student leader Lester Shum told the crowds, according to the South China Morning Post.
The Occupy Central group said it welcomed the talks, adding it hoped they would "provide a turning point in the current political stalemate".
However, others were angered by the decision to talk with the embattled government and began an impromptu sit-in on Lung Wo Road, one of the few remaining carriageways around the besieged government headquarters that had remained largely free of demonstrators.
"We're here to escalate the action, this is the point of the Occupy movement," said Chris Lau, 28, a computer engineer and one of the first to sit in the road. "The goals are still the same, true universal suffrage and for CY (Leung) to step down. Talking won't bring results, only action."