HK students take democracy strike to government office

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HONG KONG: Hong Kong students took their anti-Beijing strike to the government headquarters on Tuesday, with hundreds gathering at the harborside complex to protest against China’s refusal to grant full democracy to the city.

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

There were unruly scenes as a group of students rushed towards Hong Kong’s leader, chief executive Leung Chun-ying, when he emerged from the building after holding a press conference.

Security officials held the students back as they tried to speak with Leung, and escorted them from the grounds as dozens of media joined the melee.

“We have paid close attention to the demands for the election in 2017 by the university students,” Leung had said at the press conference, adding 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 ran up to Leung.

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

Despite the warnings, the park outside the Hong Kong government’s Tamar headquarters was taking on a carnival atmosphere as protesters trickled in under the summer sun, to attend a program 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 Agence France-Presse.

“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 theater student.

“We oppose the Chinese government trying to limit the freedoms Hong Kong people deserve,” Lo said.

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

A coalition of pro-democracy groups, led by Occupy Central, have labeled 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. AFP

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