Hong Kong Crisis Deepens After Weekend Clashes, Talks Set for Tuesday

By Donny Kwok & Farah Master 20 October 2014

HONG KONG — A deepening sense of impasse gripped Hong Kong on Monday as pro-democracy protests entered their fourth week, with the government having limited options to end the crisis and demonstrators increasingly willing to confront police.

Dozens of people were injured in two nights of clashes over the weekend in the densely populated Mong Kok district of the Chinese-controlled city, including 22 police, media said. Four people were arrested on Sunday for assault, police said.

The area was calm on Monday although scores of protesters remained on the streets.

Hopes of easing the worst political crisis in Hong Kong since Britain handed the free-wheeling city back to China in 1997 rest on talks scheduled for Tuesday between the government and student protest leaders that will be broadcast live.

But few are expecting any resolution given the two sides are poles apart on how the city will elect its next leader in 2017.

“I don’t expect much from tomorrow’s meeting, but I still hold some hope for the talks,” said Woody Wong, a 21-year-old student who camped overnight with protesters on Nathan Road, the main thoroughfare in Mong Kok.

“I will keep doing this until the government listens to our voice.”

Students want free elections, but China insists on screening candidates first. Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, has said the city’s government was unwilling to compromise on China’s restrictions, which were announced in late August.

Leung, who has rejected calls by protesters to quit, said on Sunday that more time was needed to broker what he hoped would be a non-violent end to the upheaval.

“To work out a solution, to put an end to this problem, we need time. We need time to talk to the people, particularly young students,” he told Hong Kong’s ATV Television. “What I want is to see a peaceful and a meaningful end to this problem.”

Hong Kong’s 28,000-strong police force has been struggling to contain the youth-led movement.

Over the weekend, demonstrators in Mong Kok squared off against police in late-night confrontations, surging forward to stake their claim to an intersection.

Scores of riot police smashed batons at a wall of umbrellas that protesters raised to defend themselves. Scuffles erupted amid shouts and hurled insults.

On Sunday night, crowds again built up and protesters stockpiled safety equipment such as helmets. Some wore homemade forearm shields made out of foam pads to parry baton blows.

But unlike on the previous two nights, there were no clashes.

‘Criminal Acts’ on Computer

The protesters, led by a restive generation of students, have been demanding China’s Communist Party rulers live up to constitutional promises to grant full democracy to the former British trading outpost.

Hong Kong is ruled under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows it wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms and specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal. But Beijing is wary about copycat demands for reform on the mainland.

Leung appears hamstrung, unable to compromise because of the message that would send to people on the mainland while more force looks likely to only galvanize the protesters.

Hong Kong Security Chief Lai Tung-kwok said some clashes in recent days had been initiated by activists affiliated to “radical organizations which have been active in conspiring, planning and charging violent acts”.

In addition to the four arrested for assault, police on Sunday announced the arrest of a man suspected of inciting others “on an online forum to join the unlawful assembly in Mong Kok, to charge at police and to paralyze the railways”.

The arrest of the 23-year-old man for “access to (a) computer with criminal or dishonest intent” appeared to be the first of its kind since the demonstrations began.

Mobile phone chat groups and social media sites like Facebook have been major platforms for protest chatter, including calls for action by demonstration leaders.

“Police remind the public that the internet environment is not a lawless world,” Hui Chun-tak, chief superintendent of the Police Public Relations Branch, told reporters, according to a transcript online.

Some pro-democracy politicians have demanded that the government stop using force, saying it could influence the Tuesday talks.

“Using the police to clear areas will only trigger more protests and conflict,” lawmaker Alan Leong said late on Sunday.

Besides Mong Kok, about 1,000 protesters are camped out at the headquarters of the civil disobedience “Occupy” movement on Hong Kong Island in a sea of tents on an eight-lane highway beneath skyscrapers close to government headquarters.

Hong Kong came up in weekend talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi in Boston.

A State Department official said it was discussed as part of candid exchanges on human rights. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Yang told Kerry Hong Kong was an internal affair.