Hong Kong protesters vow to fight on

2014-10-09 22:04
Leung Chun-ying (Philippe Lopez: AFP)

Leung Chun-ying (Philippe Lopez: AFP)

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Hong Kong - Crunch talks between Hong Kong's democracy protesters and the government were called off Thursday, just hours after demonstrators vowed to ratchet up their occupation of key parts of the city if their demands were not met.

The collapse of the talks, which were due to take place on Friday, plunges the key Asian financial hub into fresh crisis with protesters refusing to retreat from their barricades and an equally intransigent government rejecting further negotiations.

Parts of Hong Kong have been paralysed for more than a week by demonstrations calling for Beijing to grant full democracy to the former British colony and for city leader Leung Chun-ying to resign.

Although the crowds have shrunk dramatically from their peak of tens of thousands last week, the government's decision to cancel the talks triggered a swell in numbers once more as pro-democracy campaigners gathered to hear the response from their leaders.

Around 1 000 gathered at the main protest site outside government headquarters in central Hong Kong's Admiralty district late Thursday, a AFP reporter at the scene said.

China announced in August that while Hong Kongers will be able to vote for Leung's successor in 2017, only two to three vetted candidates will be allowed to stand - an arrangement the protesters dismiss as "fake democracy".

Hopes of a breakthrough were dashed on Thursday evening as Leung's deputy Carrie Lam announced the government was pulling out of talks with the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), which has been at the vanguard of the protests.

"The basis for constructive dialogue has been undermined. It's impossible to have a constructive meeting tomorrow," Lam said.

Her announcement came merely hours after a coalition of pro-democracy leaders gathered at the main protest site and vowed to ramp up their civil disobedience campaign if the talks broke down.

Government responsible

Student leaders late on Thursday urged officials to return to the negotiating table, labelling the government response an "international joke".

"The chaos was caused by the government. They are responsible for cleaning up the mess," HKFS president Alex Chow told reporters.

Earlier in the day, he urged protesters not to retreat if the government did not respond to calls for free elections.

"Hong Kong people will not retreat," he said. "The Occupy movement must be ongoing."

There was frustration among demonstrators after the government announced it had pulled out of the talks.

"I'm very disappointed," said Jason Coe, a 30-year-old tutor at Hong Kong University who was offering students help with their homework in Admiralty.

"Last week the government were basically saying 'Talk to us or we'll use violence'. These protesters are willing to talk, they want to negotiate and the government has taken that away from them. I'm very worried about what will happen now," he said.

Pro-democracy lawmakers threw their weight behind the protests, saying they would disrupt the workings of the Hong Kong government by gridlocking the parliamentary committees they control.

"Hong Kong has entered an era of disobedience and non-cooperation," pro-democracy lawmaker Alan Leong told the crowds.

The threat was issued as embattled city leader Leung came under pressure to explain why he kept large payments from an Australian company secret, with pro-democracy lawmakers saying they would try to impeach him.

Two payments

Fairfax Media reported on Wednesday that Leung received two payments totalling $6.5 from Australian engineering firm UGL during a deal struck in December 2011 - months before he took office, but a week after he announced his candidacy.

At the time UGL was purchasing the insolvent property services firm DTZ, where Leung was a director and chair of its regional operations.

UGL agreed to pay Leung over the next two years not to compete with them, and the contract he signed showed he agreed to act as an "adviser from time to time".

Opposition lawmakers expressed their dismay that Leung did not declare the payments to the Hong Kong public once he became leader in July 2012.

"It boils down to a huge integrity problem," pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo told AFP. "Can you imagine [Barack] Obama being a consultant of some company while being a political leader?"

Leung's office has said he was under no legal obligation to declare the earnings and that he had not worked for UGL since becoming chief executive.

Alan Leong said his group of 23 lawmakers in the 70-seat body were now planning to file an impeachment order against the chief executive.

Read more on:    leung chun-ying  |  hong kong  |  china

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