Hong Kong Students Scuffle With Police in Bid to Speak to Chief Executive

Students attend a lecture at Tamar Park as part of the activities of a week of strikes in Hong Kong, Sept. 23, 2014.  AFP
Hong Kong student protesters scuffled with police in a bid to speak to the city's chief executive as their anti-Beijing strike entered its second day on Tuesday, with police threatening some could be charged with public order offenses after trying to push forward en masse.

Several members of the influential Hong Kong Federation of Students had their identification checked by police after the scuffle, which took place as Leung attended a meeting of the territory's cabinet amid ongoing pro-democracy protests.

Police at the scene said the students had been "disturbing public order," during the brief shoving contest, and that they didn't rule out the possibility of pressing charges.

Meanwhile, thousands of students and supporters held a program of open-air "democracy classrooms" in Tamar Park, a green area outside the Hong Kong central government offices, calling on Leung to come out and hold a face-to-face dialogue with them, Federation chairman Alex Chow told RFA.

"C.Y. Leung is avoiding dialogue, and if he refuses to come to Tamar Park to meet directly with the students in the next two days, then the civil disobedience campaign will escalate," Chow said.

However, Leung's spokesman said the chief executive had been willing to talk to students and hear their concerns. "But the students suddenly rushed forward," he said. "It is hard to have a rational and balanced discussion with them, which is why he decided not to go in the end."

Leung told reporters ahead of a meeting of the executive council that he "recognizes" the demands of the students.

"I totally recognize the university students' demands, and their aspiration to have the chief executive chosen in a one-person, one-vote universal election," he said.

But he said Beijing's Aug. 31 announcement that all potential election candidates must be vetted by a hand-picked committee was final.

"According to the National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee decision, Hong Kong's chief executive will be elected by one-person, one-vote elections in 2017, and that is considerably more democratic than having them elected by a 1,200-person committee," Leung said, in a reference to the system under which he was elected.

He added: "We must increase our level of democracy still further, and I hope everyone will move forward together to achieve this."

Democratic politicians and campaigners have slammed the NPC's election framework, which will be reviewed by the U.N. human rights body next month, as "fake universal suffrage."

Student movement

As Leung spoke, students began a series of public lectures on democracy in the park, including such topics as electoral reform for Hong Kong, social movements, and urban planning.

Among the crowd listening were students from other colleges, parents, passers by and even a number of high school students.

"I think high school students should get involved in current affairs, because everything in Hong Kong is our business," said one student, who said his parents had agreed to his boycotting class in sympathy with university students.

However, a second high school student said they had been warned off striking by their school authorities.

"But they said they respected individual choice and differences in opinion in Hong Kong society," the student said.

The student federation said it plans a program of political activities in local districts on Wednesday, in spite of lower turnout at Tuesday's event.

"Maybe the majority of students don't want to turn out, but I think we have already achieved something amazing," federation spokesman Feng Zhixin told RFA.

Some 13,000 students gathered at the Chinese University of Hong Kong for a mass pro-democracy rally on Monday, the first day of the five-day boycott.

Meanwhile, organizers of the pro-democracy Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign announced plans for further protests on China's Oct. 1 National Day holiday.

Occupy Central said on its Facebook page it will hold a "democracy feast," setting up dining tables, bringing food and having after-dinner speeches in the business district as the ruling Chinese Communist Party celebrates the anniversary of the 1949 founding of the People's Republic of China by late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

Occupy organizer Chu Yiu-ming told RFA the group estimates some 5,000 people will turn out for the event.

"The gathering will begin at dusk, and comprise speeches and singing," Chu said. "This will be a public gathering for which we will apply for a legal permit."

"Everything will go through legal channels, so this will be a legal gathering," he said.

China response

China's official media kept up its attack on pro-democracy campaigners on Tuesday, saying that their efforts would be better spent focusing on the economy.

"Democracy activists [have] put all of their energy into fighting the central government, but they should shift their focus to the root of Hong Kong's problems, which cannot be blamed on the central government or mainland tourists," the English-language Global Times newspaper said in an editorial on Tuesday.

"Their passion and energy could be spent in a better way," it said.

Occupy Central has vowed to keep up an ongoing campaign of protest and civil disobedience to protect Hong Kong's judicial independence, freedom of association and expression, in spite of Beijing's ruling out of public nomination of candidates.

An unofficial referendum run by the group in June drew some 800,000 votes in favor of public nomination of candidates, but Chinese and Hong Kong officials said the largely online poll had no basis in law.

Under the terms of a 1984 treaty signed by the Communist Party and the British government, Hong Kong was promised a "high degree of autonomy" following its 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

But many say Beijing, which has warned Hong Kong it can never enjoy full autonomy, is putting heavy-handed pressure on the territory's once-free-wheeling media, and wielding increasing influence in every area of citizens' lives.

Pro-democracy campaigners say they are now fighting to preserve the city's traditional values, amid a growing number of attacks on, and sackings of, outspoken media figures and prominent journalists.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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