HK Protests Dwindle as Leader Agrees to Talks

HK Protests Dwindle as Leader Agrees to TalksHK Protests Dwindle as Leader Agrees to Talks

The crowds of protesters on the streets of Hong Kong shrank sharply Friday after the territory’s leader agreed to meet with their leaders over their demands for electoral reforms.

Police removed barricades as people returned to work and school after a two-day holiday, AP reported.

Protesters have been pushing for the Chinese government to reverse its recent decision requiring a mostly pro-Beijing panel screen all candidates for Hong Kong’s first election to choose the territory’s leader in 2017. The demonstrators want open nominations.

Student protesters had threatened to surround or occupy government buildings if Leung did not step down by Thursday, and police had warned of serious consequences if they did that.

Just minutes before Thursday’s midnight deadline set by protesters, Leung held a news conference to offer the talks, but said “I will not resign.”

Standing beside Leung was the territory’s top civil servant, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, and he asked her to arrange the talks. She said she would seek to meet with leaders of the demonstrations as soon as possible.

“I hope both sides will be satisfied,” she said. “Students had wanted a public meeting but I hope that we can have some flexibility to discuss details.”

The Hong Kong Federation of Students said in a statement early Friday that they planned to join the talks with the government, focused specifically on political reforms.

One of the leaders of the broader Occupy Central democracy group, which started a long-threatened plan to paralyze the city’s downtown core by joining the student demonstration, also welcomed the talks.“This could be an opportunity to solve the plight we are facing,” said Benny Tai.

 ’Illegal Actions’

“The protesters have occupied roads, obstructed the entrances and exits of government buildings, stopped police officers from changing shifts and denied them food and water supply. These are serious illegal acts and are unreasonable and inhumane actions,” the government said in a statement.

China’s government has called the protests illegal and voiced support for the Hong Kong government’s efforts to disperse them.

On Friday, the People’s Daily newspaper, published by China’s ruling Communist Party, said a small group of protesters were attempting to “hijack” the system and force changes to the electoral rules to benefit a minority of people. “The core of their efforts to gain so-called universal suffrage is to ensure that their representatives, including those who confront the central government, can become candidates for chief executive.”

It said this effort was doomed to failure, and that there was “no room for concessions” on the candidate screening issue. It reminded that Hong Kong “is directly under the jurisdiction of the central government; it is not a country or an independent political entity.”

Leung said the authorities would continue to tolerate the protests as long as participants did not charge police lines, but urged them to stop their occupation of much of the downtown area.