STUDENT leaders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests warned that if the territory’s top official did not resign by today they would step up their actions, including occupying several important government buildings.
By raising the stakes in the standoff, the protesters are risking another round of confrontation with police, who are unlikely to allow government buildings to be stormed.
The move also puts pressure on the Chinese government, which so far has said little beyond declaring the protests illegal and backing Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying’s attempts to end them.
But Chinese state media indicated the central government may be losing patience with the protests, and urged support for decisive action to end them.
An editorial on China’s main TV broadcaster, CCTV, said all Hong Kong residents should support authorities to “deploy police enforcement decisively” and “restore the social order in Hong Kong as soon as possible”.
The student leaders have played a key role in organising the protests to press for greater electoral reforms. The demonstrations pose the stiffest challenge to Beijing’s authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997.
Lester Shum, vice-secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said the students would welcome an opportunity to speak to a Chinese central government official.
“We ask them to come to the square and speak to the masses,” Mr Shum said. “This is a movement of Hong Kongers and not led by any specific group.”
Mr Shum demanded Mr Leung resign by the end of today. He said there was “no room for dialogue” with Mr Leung because he had ordered police to fire tear gas at protesters over the weekend. “Leung Chun-ying must step down. If he doesn’t resign by tomorrow we will step up our actions, such as by occupying several important government buildings,” he said.
He said protesters would not interfere with “essential” government services, such as hospitals and social welfare offices.
The protesters oppose Beijing’s decision in August that all candidates in an inaugural 2017 election for the territory’s top post must be approved by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing elites. They say China is reneging on a vow the chief executive would be chosen by “universal suffrage”.
Yesterday, protesters heckled Mr Leung as he attended a flag-raising ceremony marking National Day, the day Communist China was founded in 1949.
In a speech, he made no mention of the protesters, but told voters it is better to agree to Beijing’s plan for vetting candidates and hold an election, than to stick with the current system in which an Election Commission chooses the chief executive.
President Xi Jinping, who has taken a hard line against any perceived threats to the Communist Party power, vowed in a National Day speech to “steadfastly safeguard” Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.
Yesterday’s national holiday saw protest numbers swell to tens of thousands, including families with children, students, pensioners and foreigners who live in the city of seven million.
“I came out today to support the movement. No student leaders or occupy leaders urged me to come out,” said Pierre Wong, 36, an IT technician. “I hope there will be democratic reform, instead of using the current framework.”
Volunteers handed out water, crackers, umbrellas, raincoats and plastic wrap – which was used to protect against pepper spray and tear gas wielded by police over the weekend.