Scuffles as Hong Kong students escalate democracy strike

HONG KONG - Hong Kong students mobbed the city's leader Tuesday in angry scenes as they took their anti-Beijing strike to government headquarters, where hundreds protested against China's refusal to grant full democracy.

Organisers said 13,000 university students massed at a northern campus on Monday to launch a week-long boycott of classes, a strong showing that breathed new life into the democracy campaign which had been stunned by Beijing's hardline stance.

Activists say the student protest marks the start of a campaign of civil disobedience against China's plan to vet nominees for the leadership of the former British colony, dashing hopes for full universal suffrage at 2017 polls.

About a dozen students rushed towards Hong Kong's leader, chief executive Leung Chun-ying, on Tuesday when he emerged from the building after holding a press conference.

Leung was hustled away while security officials forced the students back, escorting them from the grounds as dozens of media joined the melee.

"This is a warning. Your actions have already severely disrupted order here," police said over loudspeakers, while in response protesters chanted: "Hong Kong belongs to us!" Leung said at the press conference that authorities had "paid close attention to the demands for the election in 2017 by the university students" but that Beijing's proposals were an improvement on the current state of democracy.

"You can see that he has no intention of having a dialogue with the students," said Alex Chow, chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and one of the activists who challenged Leung.

Chow threatened an escalation of the protest action if Leung refuses to speak with students within 48 hours.

Up to the students

The park outside the Hong Kong government's Tamar headquarters took on a carnival atmosphere as protesters trickled in under the summer sun, to attend a programme including lectures on the lawns.

"The government officials, the legislators, they can look out their window and see us calling for true democracy," 20-year-old political science student Ester Wong told AFP.

"This park has a lot of significance in Hong Kong protest movements, and we're here to continue that tradition," she said, huddled with hundreds of others under the shade of trees and tents.

The students are heartened by past successes, including the government's 2012 backdown on a plan to implement patriotism classes which was abandoned in the face of mass protests outside government headquarters.

"Someone needs to take the lead in showing the government they're wrong, and this time it's up to the students," said Ryan Lo, 19, a theatre student.

"We oppose the Chinese government trying to limit the freedoms Hong Kong people deserve." Chinese political dissidents including Beijing-based Hu Jia called on the international community to take action in prevent a repeat of the bloody crackdown on the student-led Tiananmen Square protests.

"As widespread demonstrations grow against Beijing's violation of its promise to allow universal suffrage, there is a danger the infamous 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square could be repeated in Hong Kong," they said in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.

"The United States and the international community share the responsibility to prevent another murderous massacre," they said.

Tensions in Hong Kong are at their highest in years, fuelled by rising inequality as well as Beijing's perceived interference in the affairs of the semi-autonomous territory.

A coalition of pro-democracy groups, led by Occupy Central, have labelled the election restrictions a "fake democracy" and have vowed a series of actions including a blockade of the Central financial district.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" agreement which allows civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including free speech and the right to protest.