HONG KONG: Pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong on Sunday announced a partial withdrawal from some protest sites but others vowed to stay on ahead of a deadline to clear the streets.
Occupy Central, one of the groups organizing the protests, said protesters would leave a secondary site to reinforce the main demonstration area and would allow access to a blockaded road near the government’s downtown headquarters.
Demonstrators across the harbor in congested Mongkok would join those in the central Admiralty district, and also called for the road next to the offices of the city’s leader to be unblocked, they said.
“#OccupyHK supporters in Mong Kok announce they will leave and join the occupation in Admiralty,” read a tweet from the group’s Twitter feed.
“#OccupyHK protesters outside the Chief Executive’s office in Lung Wo Rd announce they’ve decided to withdraw after deliberating together,” read another.
The decision, however, was not immediately backed up by student protesters, the other main group behind the week-long demonstrations, with an Agence France-Presse reporter in Mongkok told that demonstrators would leave but that others would remain on the site.
Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has said he is determined to clear areas near the downtown government offices after two public holidays cut short the working week last week.
“We have to ensure the safety of government premises and restore their operation,” he said in a televised address late on Saturday.
“The most pressing task for the government is to reopen access to the CGO [Central Government Offices] on Monday so that some 3,000 CGO staff can return to their workplace and continue to provide services to the public.”
Leung, who was voted into office by 689 people on a pro-Beijing committee numbering just 1,200 two years ago, issued an ominous warning if the protests are not ended.
“The situation may probably evolve into a state beyond control, and will have serious consequences to public safety and social order,” he said.
Violence flared again in the early hours of Sunday in densely-populated Mongkok district as riot police used batons and pepper spray to fight back demonstrators who accused officers of cooperating with gangsters.
Police Senior Supt. Patrick Kwok defended the use of the spray while Financial Secretary John Tsang admitted on Sunday that the government had “no experience and psychological preparation” for the extent of the Occupy movement.
The number of injured people sent to hospitals from Occupy protests since last Sunday rose to 165, the South China Morning Post said, citing health authorities.
While drawing many sympathizers to the streets, the protest campaign has also caused wide-scale disruption and taken a heavy toll on local businesses.
Tens of thousands turned out on Saturday night in the biggest gathering yet of the week-long protest. Those few who were back on the streets on Sunday said they had no intention of leaving.
‘I’m not going to leave’
“I’m worried about the threat from CY [Chun-ying], but I’m not going to leave because we are fighting for our values and genuine universal suffrage,” Nixon Leung, a 22-year-old masters student at Hong Kong University, said.
“We must continue our fight. The government has not responded to our demands for civil nomination and for CY to step down, but have constantly asked us to retreat. We simply cannot accept that.”
Fears that the police were getting ready to move in sparked calls from university administrators urging students to leave protest sites for their own safety.
But many were not to be deterred.
“I saw police transporting bags of supplies that looked like riot gear into government headquarters,” said Ivan Ha, a psychology student.
“But despite that, I’m going to stay until real dialogue happens, hopefully with CY,” the 20-year-old added.
The protesters are demanding the right to nominate who can run as Hong Kong’s next leader in 2017 elections.
The communist government of China, which regained sovereignty over Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, insists that only pre-approved candidates will be able to stand and has repeatedly said the protests are doomed to fail.
Sunday marked exactly a week since police fired tear gas on protesters in an effort to disperse them, but only adding sympathy to their cause and boosting numbers.
‘Door open to dialogue’
Student leaders and the government both said they were willing to enter talks with each other but stressed certain conditions.
The government in a statement said “the door to dialogue is always open, if the [main student union]HKFS is willing,” calling on them to help clear protesters from the areas around Admiralty.
HKFS, the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said the regime must investigate allegations that police had failed to protect them from violence before agreeing to talks.
Sporadic clashes have broken out, mainly in the Kowloon district of Mongkok, with democracy activists claiming that agitators from the city’s triad mobs are being paid to attack peaceful demonstrators.