Hong Kong protests: Resignation call amid stand-off

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Pro-democracy protesters have again urged Hong Kong’s leader to step down saying he will be condemned by history, as huge crowds continue to bring parts of the territory to a standstill.

On Monday night, tens of thousands blocked streets, singing and chanting.

The protesters want Beijing to give Hong Kong a free vote for its next leader, something Beijing has rejected.

By Tuesday streets were relatively quiet but crowds are expected to swell for the eve of Chinese National Day.

Over the weekend police used tear gas and pepper spray, but riot police have since been withdrawn and protesters remain calm.

China has described the demonstrations as illegal and urged the Hong Kong government to bring them under control. News of the protests is being heavily censored in mainland China.

In the US, a White House spokesman urged Hong Kong authorities to “exercise restraint” and protesters to “express their views peacefully”.

‘Condemned by history’

The protesters are a mix of student protesters and supporters of the pro-democracy Occupy Central group, which has been promising a sit-in at Hong Kong’s financial hub for months.

Numbers have swelled amid some public anger over perceived heavy-handed policing of weekend protests.

In its latest statement, Occupy Central accused the government of “delay tactics” after it said it would postpone consultations on electoral reform.

Beijing ruled last month that while Hong Kong people can elect their next leader, their choice of candidates will be restricted to two or three approved by a pro-Beijing committee.

At the scene: Saira Asher, BBC News, Hong Kong

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters spent the night on the street near Admiralty in Hong Kong’s Central district. Some were propped up against barricades, others stretched out in the middle of a major road.

After a strong show last night the crowds have trickled out this morning as people go to work or home to take care of household chores. But they say they will be back tonight when numbers are expected to swell. This has been the routine now for two days. The crowds diminish in the day but return in full force in the evening and stay the night.

The morning is being spent mostly removing rubbish left over from last night’s huge crowd. Students are picking up cigarette butts and plastic bottles, others are distributing breakfast buns. That is why those on the street are being called “the politest protesters” by some on social media.

But they are on edge. At one point in the middle of the night everyone suddenly stood up and started pulling on masks. It turned out to be just a changing of the guard for the handful of police scattered around here, but the sudden fear was palpable.

In Hong Kong, further consultations had been due to take place on the ruling but on Monday a senior official said these would be postponed until a “better time”.

In its statement, Occupy said it believed the government was “just hoping people’s desire for genuine universal suffrage to fade out over time”.

Occupy also repeated calls for Mr Leung’s resignation, saying he would be “condemned by the history of democratic development in Hong Kong”.

At the moment protesters have been blocking roads in at least three parts of the territory. Schools have been closed, bus routes diverted and transport disrupted. Some banks have suspended operations in affected areas.

As dawn broke numbers had dwindled as some headed for work or school. But Wednesday marks Chinese National Day – a holiday – and most expect more crowds out on Hong Kong’s streets this evening.

In other developments:

  • A man was arrested after he drove his car at protesters in Mong Kok in the early hours of Tuesday. No reason was given for the incident
  • On Monday, the British government called for the right to protest to be protected and for protesters to exercise their right within the law

Not everyone backs the protests, however. Some fear the ongoing demonstrations could affect Hong Kong’s relationship with Beijing or hit the economy of the financial hub.

In mainland China, media have blamed “radical opposition forces” for stirring up trouble.

Analysts say Communist Party leaders in Beijing are worried that calls for democracy could spread to cities on the mainland, putting them in a very difficult position.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees liberties not seen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and the right to protest.

Hong Kong democracy timeline

  • 1997: Hong Kong, a former British colony, is handed back to China under an 1984 agreement giving it “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs” for 50 years
  • 2004: China rules that its approval must be sought for changes to Hong Kong’s election laws
  • June-July 2014: Pro-democracy activists hold an unofficial referendum on political reform and a large rally. This is followed by protests by pro-Beijing activists
  • 31 August 2014: China says it will allow direct elections in 2017, but voters will only be able to choose from a list of pre-approved candidates. Activists stage protests
  • 22 September 2014: Student groups launch a week-long boycott of classes in protest
  • 2017: Direct elections for chief executive due to take place
  • 2047: Expiry of current agreements

 

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