Pro-democracy protests expanded in Hong Kong today, a day after demonstrators upset over Beijing’s decision to limit political reforms defied onslaughts of tear gas and appeals from Hong Kong’s top leader to go home.
And with rumors swirling, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying reassured the public that speculation that the Chinese army might intervene was untrue.
At dawn today, police officers tried to negotiate with protesters camped out on a normally busy highway near government headquarters that was the scene of the tear gas-fueled clashes that erupted the evening before.
An officer with a bullhorn tried to get them to clear the way for the commuters that would soon be streaming into work. A protester, using the group’s own speaker system, responded by saying that they wanted Leung and his cabinet to “do something good for Hong Kong. We want real democracy.”
The mass protest, which has gathered support from high school students to seniors, is the strongest challenge yet to Beijing’s decision to limit democratic reforms for the semi-autonomous city.
The protests began with a class boycott by students urging Beijing to grant genuine democratic reforms to this former British colony.
When China took control of Hong Kong from the British in 1997, it agreed to a policy of “one country, two systems” that allowed the city a high degree of control over its own affairs and kept in place liberties unseen on the mainland. It also promised the city’s leader would eventually be chosen through “universal suffrage.”
Hong Kong’s residents have long felt their city stood apart from mainland China thanks to those civil liberties and separate legal and financial systems.
Beijing’s insistence on using a committee to screen candidates on the basis of their patriotism to China – similar to the one that currently hand-picks Hong Kong’s leaders – has stoked fears among pro-democracy groups that Hong Kong will never get genuine democracy.
University students began their class boycotts over a week ago and say they will continue them until officials meet their demands for reforming the local legislature and withdrawing the proposal to screen election candidates.
Although students started the rally, leaders of the broader Occupy Central civil disobedience movement joined them, saying they wanted to kick-start a long-threatened mass sit-in demanding Hong Kong’s top leader be elected without Beijing’s interference.
Occupy Central issued a statement Monday calling on Leung to resign and saying his “non-response to the people’s demands has driven Hong Kong into a crisis of disorder.”
The statement added that the protest was now “a spontaneous movement” of all Hong Kong people.