HK calls off talks as protesters flaunt crowd muscle

HK calls off talks as protesters flaunt crowd muscle
Protesters gathered in support of student activist.

It is back to square one. The Hong Kong government has called off talks with pro-democracy protest leaders who, in turn, want to continue paralysing the city by occupying some key thoroughfares and districts.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who would have represented the government in talks originally scheduled for this afternoon, blamed the cancellation on the demands of the protest leaders.

She told reporters: "The students' call for an expansion of an uncooperative movement has shaken the trust of the basis of our talks and it will be impossible to have a constructive dialogue."

Signs that the talks were headed for a breakdown appeared yesterday afternoon, when student leaders called for crowds to gather at the main protest site at the scheduled time of the talks to put pressure on the authorities. They indicated that the protests would end only if the government made some concessions.

Mrs Lam reacted hours later by cancelling the talks. "This is sacrificing public good for their political demands, and is against public interests and political ethics," she added, noting that average Hong Kongers are paying the price for the disruptions.

In turn, leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students hardened their stance and called on supporters last night to overwhelm the streets again to force the government back to the table.

The setback came in the wake of a brewing financial scandal involving embattled Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying. Media reports alleged that improper payments amounting to HK$50 million (S$8.2 million) were made to him by an Australian company over the last two years.

Hong Kong's Department of Justice yesterday gave the prosecution office authority to look into the allegations, which Mr Leung's office has strongly denied.

Mr Leung has not commented on the latest setback to the negotiations, which had been in peril almost from the moment they were agreed upon.

On Tuesday night, student leaders claimed that the authorities were limiting the agenda to just two topics: the constitutional basis for electoral reform, and "legal requirements" for constitutional development.

This sidestepped the protest movement's main demand of unfettered universal suffrage, they said.

Mrs Lam maintained yesterday that the government remained sincere about the talks.

But she stressed that it would neither conduct negotiations outside of Hong Kong's constitutional framework, nor engage with protesters while they used a blockade of the city centre as a bargaining chip.

This article was first published on Oct 10, 2014.
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