Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying says he will not step down in the face of pro-democracy demonstrations – but agrees to hold talks with protest leaders.
At a press conference held just half an hour before the midnight deadline set by protesters demanding his resignation, Mr Leung announced that the chief secretary of the territory, Carrie Lam, would open a dialogue with student leaders as soon as possible.
“The Hong Kong government is always willing to discuss the [political] reforms,” he said. He gave no time frame.
Mr Leung however warned that gatherings outside government buildings were against the law, and that any attempt to occupy official buildings would be met with a police response.
Hong Kong authorities had earlier urged thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators to immediately end their blockade of the city centre. The protests, nearly a week old, have brought large parts of the Asian financial hub to a standstill.
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Tens of thousands of protesters had braved police tear gas to make their views known over the weekend. Photographs taken at the government buildings site earlier suggested that rubber bullets and riot gear are being stockpiled by police.
The Hong Kong government on Thursday also urged the occupy movement to end their protests immediately, saying their actions were affecting public order and the provision of public services.
The city’s streets were calm while police largely kept their distance from the thousands of mostly young people keeping up protests, now nearly a week old, in several areas of the global financial hub. Pro-democracy protesters said news of the anti-Occupy rally did not surprise them.
“I think it’s normal. In a city there are many different voices and when you disrupt other people’s lives you can anticipate some opposite voice and I think it is a little bit disruptive to other people’s life here because they do not support this campaign,” protester Olivier Cheung said.
The popular occupy central movement presents one of the biggest political challenges for Beijing since it violently crushed pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.