Hong Kong protest leader says block government, not roads

HONG KONG - A founder of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement branded the occupation of the city's main roads as "high-risk" Friday, urging protesters to turn to new methods of civil disobedience to push for electoral reform.

Benny Tai, one of the three founders of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement, said the movement has now run its course and warned that protesters now risk further violent clashes with police if they stay in their camps.

"Occupation is now a high-risk, low-return business," he said in an editorial in the New York Times, arguing that campaigners should instead turn to "acts of noncooperation" such as refusing to pay taxes.

"The occupation has won over as many Hong Kongers as it ever will, and we should consider new ways to convince the public that fighting for full democracy is in their interest."

Campaigners have camped out on Hong Kong's streets for more than two months to demand fully free elections for the southern Chinese city's leadership.

The rallies drew tens of thousands at their height, but numbers have dwindled as public support for the movement has waned and dozens have been injured in clashes with police as authorities have tried to clear the camps.

So far one of three camps established by the movement has been dismantled, and Hong Kong authorities are gearing up for more clearances next week.

Police could clear part of the main Admiralty protest site as early as Wednesday after the city's High Court rejected a bid to halt the injunction, reports said Friday.

Around 100 academics, with some in full ceremonial gowns, held a rally in support of students and marched towards the Admiralty protest site Friday, where they were greeted with applause.

Some scholars held signs saying "I want true universal suffrage" and held yellow umbrellas, a symbol of the democracy movement.

"They are our students and they are pursuing something that is not just for themselves but is for the whole society," Esther Ho, professor of educational policy and administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told AFP.

Tai and two other founding fathers of the movement -- Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-ming -- handed themselves in to police on Wednesday in a symbolic move to end the occupation, but the different groups behind the movement remain split on how to proceed.

Student protest leaders have until now remained adamant that staying on the streets is their only option to force reform.

But a prominent leader from the Hong Kong Federation of Students, the group which led the mass rallies, said Thursday that students would decide "within a week" whether to leave the two remaining camps.

Tai added that using methods such as refusing to pay taxes or rents for public housing, and filibustering in the city's mini-parliament may prove to be more effective than blocking roads.

"Blocking government may be even more powerful than blocking roads," he said.