12:59 pm - Friday June 21, 2024

Hong Kong’s Leader Calls for Protests to End ‘Immediately’

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HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed leader on Tuesday called for the pro-democracy demonstrators who have blocked major roads in the city to return home “immediately” and gave no sign that he was prepared to compromise on their demands for more open elections to choose his successor.

In his first remarks on the protests since the Hong Kong police used tear gas against demonstrators on Sunday, Leung Chun-ying, the autonomous Chinese territory’s chief executive, called on one of the two main groups organizing the protests, Occupy Central With Love and Peace, to end the demonstrations.

“Occupy Central founders had said repeatedly that if the movement is getting out of control, they would call for it to stop,” Mr. Leung said. “I’m now asking them to fulfill the promise they made to society and stop this campaign immediately.”The protests started last Friday when university and high school students took to the streets, and they expanded considerably when Occupy Central announced early Sunday that it was joining the demonstrations, instead of waiting until Wednesday or later as it had signaled it would.

Occupy Central leaders hinted on Monday that they might consider a temporary lull in the protests. But there has been no such hint of conciliation from the student leaders, who have taken a considerably harder line in demanding that Beijing and the Hong Kong government scrap a decision by China limiting the scope of who can run in the 2017 elections to choose the next chief executive.

“Occupy Central and its impact isn’t a matter of days,” Mr. Leung said. “It will last for a relatively long time. As a result, its impact on people’s lives and their personal safety in emergencies, as well as Hong Kong’s economic development and the cost to Hong Kong’s international image, will grow bigger and bigger. I hope everyone can consider these issues.”

Mr. Leung noted that the protesters had organized roadblocks, distribution points for supplies and even first-aid stations. But while giving organizers credit for thinking about the medical needs of protesters, Mr. Leung complained that the protesters were delaying ambulances, fire engines and other emergency vehicles that needed to reach other residents.

“There are many emergency services that are affected, there are wounded patients who cannot receive timely care,” he said, adding that fire stations had also been blocked.

There was little sign on Tuesday that the protesters would back down quickly, even if there were protest leaders willing or able to send them home. Although the demonstrators’ numbers, which had surged overnight, appeared somewhat reduced in the morning as some went home to shower, eat or rest, by afternoon the crowds at the main protest sites appeared to be swelling again.

The police, whose use of tear gas Sunday seemed only to motivate more people to join the protests, gave no indication that they were preparing to disperse the demonstrators. At a news conference, Hui Chun-tak, the chief spokesman for the police, acknowledged that “the majority of protesters have expressed their views in a legal way” and praised organizers for being willing to discuss opening some lanes of the blocked roads in the city center for use by emergency vehicles.Mr. Hui cautioned protesters against setting up roadblocks, but he issued only one stern admonition, criticizing demonstrators for stopping a police vehicle the day before, yanking open the driver’s door and snatching the keys from the ignition, immobilizing the officers.

Michael DeGolyer, a longtime political analyst at Hong Kong Baptist University, said that the university professors and politicians who proposed Occupy Central a year and a half ago as a civil disobedience campaign appear to have less influence with many of the demonstrators than the student leaders do.

Those young adults appear to be paying more attention to student leaders like Joshua Wong, who is just 17, than to Occupy Central’s older generation of leaders, Mr. DeGolyer said. He added that “there’s a very large number of people who are very disaffected and alienated who are not students, who are not affiliated with any political party and who are angry.”

Mr. Leung has refused to discuss democratic changes with student leaders, even as the government has struggled to draft a policy for dealing with student unrest. Mr. Wong was detained by the police for 40 hours without charges over the weekend before a judge ordered his release.

Long lines formed at supermarkets Tuesday as shoppers stocked up on rice and other essentials — a sign that many residents are concerned about the possibility of a prolonged confrontation and perhaps violence. Wednesday is a public holiday marking the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Steve Vickers and Associates, a Hong Kong security company founded by a former top Hong Kong police officer, predicted on Tuesday that the crowds in the streets would swell for the next two days as many people used the holiday to come out and show their support. But some might then start returning to work on Thursday or Friday, the company said in a report.

“If no major clashes occur, they are likely to peak over the next 48 hours,” the company said of the protests.

The stock market in Hong Kong continued to fall on Tuesday, losing another 1.2 percent in morning trading after falling 1.9 percent on Monday. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority said that 37 branches or offices of 21 banks were closed on Tuesday morning but that financial markets and the banking system were nonetheless functioning normally.

Compounding the discomfort of protesters and the police alike on Tuesday was the heat. The Hong Kong government issued one of its occasional warnings of very hot weather to the public and to employers, cautioning against the risk of heatstroke for anyone spending a lot of time outdoors in the hot, humid, stagnant air.

The forecast was for a high of 32 degrees Celsius, or 90 Fahrenheit, but with 95 percent humidity and practically no hint of a breeze.
Hong Kong, a British colony until 1997, when China resumed sovereignty, has operated under a policy of “one country, two systems.”

The city maintains an independent judiciary, and residents enjoy greater civil liberties than residents of mainland China. Hong Kong has a robust tradition of free speech.

Democratic groups say Beijing has chipped away at those freedoms, citing an election law proposed last month that would limit voting reforms.

China had promised free elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017. But the government rejected a call for open nominations of candidates, instead proposing that candidates would continue to be chosen by a committee dominated by Beijing.

The current city leader, Leung Chun-ying, has clashed with the pro-democracy opposition. After the crackdown on protesters Sunday, some called for his resignation.
Polls conducted by academic institutions over the past year have indicated that the most disaffected and potentially volatile sector of Hong Kong society is not the students, nor the middle-aged or even elderly activists who have

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