HK govt stands its ground but offers to resume talks

HK govt stands its ground but offers to resume talks
Police using pepper spray in a clash with pro-democracy protesters near the government headquarters building in Hong Kong yesterday. Seven policemen who allegedly assaulted an activist have been suspended.

Hong Kong's government and student protesters are set to reopen talks, even as the administration insists that negotiations must be held within the city's constitutional framework.

Leaders from the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) agreed to a dialogue with the government last night, following an announcement earlier in the day by Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying that the government hoped to meet students after talks were called off last week.

However, Hong Kong's commitment to Beijing's rules for the 2017 chief executive election means it will be hard to reach a compromise, analysts say.

Mr Leung said the government has, in the past few days, been reaching out to HKFS through "middlemen", whom he did not name. "An early meeting between the two parties is in line with expectations of the community," he said yesterday, suggesting that a university vice-chancellor could act as a moderator for the talks.

HKFS secretary-general Alex Chow responded hours later, saying that the group will talk to the government and reflect the requests of the people.

Mr Leung said the government is also working to restore public order and traffic flow across Hong Kong and start the second round of public consultation on electoral reform before the end of the year.

The offer of new talks came after a two-day spike in violence between police and the protesters, as they battled over a series of barricades near the government's besieged headquarters in Admiralty.

Thousands of Hong Kongers have taken to the streets since Sept 28, after China's National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee decided on Aug 31 that candidates for the first directly elected chief executive will be screened by a nominating panel, which will likely pick only pro-Beijing candidates. But protesters want public nominations.

Mr Leung said yesterday that requesting a reversal of the NPC's decision, or the changing of Hong Kong's Basic Law, is "not practical" and that the various parties have to "draw a line between possibilities and impossibilities".

"The most constructive thing that the Hong Kong government can offer the students is to sit down and listen to the students (about) what we can do together under the framework," he said.

Political analyst Ma Ngok from the Chinese University of Hong Kong feels HKFS can benefit from talks, given that there are signs in recent days that it is losing control of the movement. "More radical elements have been using more confrontational methods."

Mr Leung yesterday also defended the police, saying they have worked hard and shown "maximum tolerance" under pressure. He said the authorities will investigate impartially the alleged assault of activist Ken Tsang by seven policemen on Wednesday. The seven have been suspended.

This article was first published on Oct 17, 2014.
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