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After Talks Fail, Protesters Dig In as Thousands Return to the Streets of Hong Kong

Friday's rally attracted tens of thousands of people and appeared to reinvigorate the city’s pro-democracy demonstrations, which had dwindled over the past week.
October 10, 2014, 5:35pm
Photo by Steven Hsieh

Pro-democracy demonstrators poured back into one of Hong Kong's busiest districts Friday evening, demonstrating strength in numbers after government officials backed out of planned talks with student leaders, who urged protesters to bring tents and blankets to the streets for "long-term" actions in response.

The rally in Admiralty district — the center of government activity in the city — attracted tens of thousands of people and appeared to reinvigorate the city's Occupy demonstrations, which had dwindled over the past week from nightly mass gatherings to smaller and smaller encampments. The gathering was easily the largest in days, with members of the massive audience watching speakers from projection screens.

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Organizers, popular musicians, and legislators addressed the crowd, which answered with chants and applause. Lester Shum, one of the leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, led a chant of, "Democracy Now! Democracy in Hong Kong!"

(Photo by Steven Hsieh)

After two weeks of demonstrations, protesters are frustrated over the government's refusal to address the public's grievances over a 2017 election plan in which Beijing would prescreen candidates for Hong Kong's chief executive. On Thursday afternoon, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's number two official, withdrew from planned talks with student leaders, hours after they vowed to continue civil disobedience demonstrations around the city. Lam told reporters "the basis for a constructive dialogue between us and the students has been seriously undermined."

Lam's announcement followed revelations that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying had secretly received payments totaling $6.4 million from an Australian engineering firm while in office. Demonstrators had already been pushing for Leung to resign, and news of the payments further undermined him. Anti-corruption investigators in Hong Kong and Australia announced on Friday that they would investigate the payments for potential bribery law violations, as pro-democracy lawmakers threatened to impeach Leung.

Hong Kong chief executive won't resign despite massive protests, as China issues ominous warning. Read more here.

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"We need to show our anger and persistence with long-term Occupy actions," Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old co-founder of the student activist group Scholarism, declared to reporters in response to the government's refusal to come to the negotiating table.

The protests have already begun showing hints of permanency. Tents, blankets, and even beds have been popping up in three main protest zones, replacing backpacks and cardboard as sleeping surfaces. A bathroom near the government headquarters has been stocked with toiletries like toothpaste and spray deodorant. Volunteers have set up a makeshift shower, using a tarp wrapped around a pop-up canopy.

People are beginning to call an eight-lane stretch of road in Admiralty that has become the center of protest activity "Umbrella Square," echoing the movement's adoption of the umbrella as a symbol for its unconventional use as a shield from tear gas.

"Starting out, we didn't think this would be a long-term campaign," Tracy Leung, a 25-year-old customer service representative, told VICE News as she set up a tent with friends during Friday's rally. "After the government's action yesterday, I think we'll be out here much longer than we expected."

In Mong Kok, twin-size bed frames topped with thin mattresses lined small sections of Nathan Road, one of the busiest streets in all of Hong Kong. Yang Kung, a 47-year-old air conditioning mechanic, told VICE News that he came out to protect young protesters after police fired tear gas at them last month.

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"I'll be here as long as the students are here," he said while sitting on a bed eating take out. "If my body is here, I'm helping them."

1…2…3…. oh, 16 Chinese Government Databases ready to leak on Saturday… About 20 more in que. Stay tuned— ?®€z (@trezsec)October 10, 2014

Meanwhile, in the wake of reports that authorities in Hong Kong and China are targeting protesters with malware to mine data from their mobile devices, the hacktivist group Anonymous declared on Friday that it would coordinate Distributed Denial of Service attacks on Hong Kong and Chinese government websites and leak thousands of official email addresses.

"Here's your heads up, prepare for us, try to stop it, the only success you will have will be taking all your sites offline," the group said in a statement, which singled out the websites of the Chinese police, the Hong Kong police, and the Chinese ministries of Defense and Justice as particular targets. "You should have expected us before abusing your power against the citizens of Hong Kong."

Follow Steven Hsieh on Twitter: @stevenjhsieh