Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong returned to busy roads and entrances to government offices Sunday, defying a looming deadline issued by the territory's chief to clear demonstrations by the start of the workweek. Government executives have failed to agree with student leaders on prerequisites for initiating a dialogue, and officials have hinted that a crackdown could be on the horizon.
Alex Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said officials refused to meet the students' three demands: that negotiations occur over multiple rounds, that both sides have equal footing, and that the government "executes" on any agreements to come out of talks, according to the South China Morning Post. Student leaders also said that talks would not happen if police used violence against protesters.
The previous night, Chief Executive Leung Chin-Ying suggested that a crackdown could be imminent, ordering protesters to clear entrances to government buildings before the start of the workweek. He vowed to take "all necessary action to restore social order," leading many to speculate that police would use forceful methods to clear demonstrations, including tear gas.
Tens of thousands of protesters ignored warnings from officials, university chancellors, and parents, turning out en masse for an eighth day of civil disobedience. The largest crowds emerged in Admiralty, the city's government district, and Mong Kok, a densely packed shopping area that was hit by violence over the weekend. The crowds were noticeably smaller than on Saturday, when a sea of protesters overflowed onto bridges and stairs.
Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators gathered at Admiralty on Saturday morning.
A significant chunk of protesters started leaving the scene at Admiralty hours before midnight, citing work the next day or fear of a police crackdown. A woman who identified herself as Ms. Yip, 22, told VICE News that she planned to leave early Sunday night after reading reports of sexual harassment against protesters in Mong Kok.
Thousands of protesters remained at the midnight hour, with about 100 gathered outside the Chief Executive's office, and many more scattered across a major section of road in Admiralty. First aid volunteers near the Chief Executive's office lounged around eating Pringles, having already prepared mobile emergency kits in case of tear gas. Some hardcore protesters voiced their frustration that the government has yet to budge.
"It's been eight days. Up to today, they've given us nothing. We ought not to give up now," said Alexandra Wang, 58, sitting meters away from a line of police at the Chief Executive's office with lab goggles strapped to her head and a surgical facemask dangling around her neck.
'Even though the government and police treated us with violence, we are not afraid. We want true democracy.'
Jonathan Cheung, a 27-year-old television writer, told VICE News, "Even though the government and police treated us with violence, we are not afraid. We want true democracy. It's a long fight, a long journey—not just one week, not just two weeks."
Over eight days of sit-ins, many residents have grown impatient with the pro-democracy protesters, complaining of road blockages, school closings, and slow business. A distraught man, who scaled a pedestrian bridge overlooking the main protest area of Admiralty, seemed to symbolize the frustrations of weary locals. Speaking through a megaphone in the afternoon, the man, who identified himself as Mr. Yip, threatened to jump from a ledge if student leaders did not meet with him. He complained that his three children had not been able to go to school all week. After nearly five hours, a rescue team escorted Mr. Yip to safety as onlookers exploded in applause.
At one point in the evening, a group of protesters in Admiralty wheeled out a sculpture of a human figure, composed of wood blocks and standing an estimated 14 feet. It wielded a yellow umbrella in its right arm as if giving shelter to a neighbor. Students hollered, applauded, and rushed to take photos of the figure as it rolled down the road.
Dora Tang, a 21-year-old sociology major at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, observed, "It's art to let the whole world know what we think: a Hong Kong person holding an umbrella. It looks like all of us."
Choy Chun-Yu, a 22-year-old economics major at the University of Hong Kong, dug a little deeper. "It uses wood blocks to make a puzzle," he said. "In some sense, I'd guess it's quite fragile. If we don't stick together, maybe one big punch could knock the whole thing down."
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