Hong Kong's government is now ready to begin talks as early as next week with pro-democracy protesters, its chief executive said on Thursday, a day after a video of police officers beating an unarmed activist stirred further outrage on the city's streets.
CY Leung made the announcement during a live press conference, saying that officials had via the use of mediators been negotiating with students over the course of the last week.
On Wednesday Hong Kong police were filmed kicking and beating Ken Tsang, a social worker and a member of the opposition Civic Party, following a stand-off between demonstrators and security forces as they tried to occupy a major road near government buildings.. Tsang later claimed to have also fallen victim to further violence while in detention, and his ordeal has fuelled protesters' determination to push into the area, with clashes continuing for a second night and hundreds of protesters descending on the city's police headquarters.
The officers involved have been suspended and the incident is under investigation, authorities have said.
The protests are aimed at overturning rules imposed by the Chinese government which would allow only candidates pre-screened by Hong Kong's largely pro-Beijing establishment to run in the 2017 elections, despite an earlier promise of a free vote in the Special Autonomous Region (SAR). Many believe that Beijing will use the screening process to push through its own preferred candidates.
"Over the last few days, including this morning through third parties, we expressed a wish to the students that we would like to start a dialogue to discuss universal suffrage as soon as we can and hopefully within the following week", Leung told reporters.
Leung highlighted that the government were willing to re-enter into negotiations with the main student group — the Hong Kong Federation of Students.
However Leung also made it clear that the continual use of sit-ins by the protesters was pressing the tolerance of the city. Specifically Leung claimed that members of the public were "very discontent" with the paralysis caused by the tactic.
"We do not want to see anyone, including students, continuing to occupy the roads for a long time and creating conflict with the public who are disgruntled. We don't want to see clashes," Leung said.
"We cannot allow the situation to continue to have an adverse impact on Hong Kong society," he said, adding that authorities would continue in their efforts to restore order, in accordance with the laws of the SAR, "as quickly as we can."
Leung's comments come after business owners and taxi drivers complained that the protests have cost them valuable income. During the early days of the demonstrations, one man threatened to jump off a bridge after his child's school had been closed for days.
However, China would not reverse its decision to vet candidates in the 2017 vote, he insisted.
Last week Chief Secretary Carrie Lam cancelled talks with protesters, claiming that it was impossible to engage in meaningful dialogue while parts of the city remained occupied.
Tension between protesters and government forces have risen this week, resulting in serious conflict as the demonstrators looked to re-occupy a key road near the offices of the chief executive.
The protesters are reported to have returned to that area of the city following the police assault on Tsang.
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