Hong Kong protests: Formal talks agreed as protests shrink

Pro democracy protester reads a newspaper at Hong Kong's Mongkok district Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mong Kok, a smaller protest site in Kowloon, saw violent clashes over the weekend

Representatives of Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters have agreed to hold formal talks with the government.

No date has been set but the students made it clear the talks would be called off if the remaining demonstrators were cleared from the streets by force.

As the protests continued for their second week, crowds began to die down early on Tuesday.

Pro-democracy activists are protesting at China's plans to vet candidates when Hong Kong holds elections in 2017.

They are demanding that the central government in Beijing allow a fully free vote for the territory's leader.

Analysis: Juliana Liu, BBC News, Hong Kong

The crowds may have receded from tens of thousands to just hundreds, but demonstrators, lawmakers and academics believe Hong Kong's civil disobedience movement has been the most successful pro-democracy campaign in the city's history.

They say it has managed to galvanise public opinion on the importance of having genuine choices in elections. And they now find Hong Kong people more willing to take to the streets in support of other democratic causes.

But, they believe upcoming talks between student leaders and the Hong Kong government on political reform are unlikely to produce any genuine breakthroughs.

That is because of the Chinese government's reluctance to allow someone it does not trust to lead Hong Kong.

Even before Benny Tai, the original founder of the sit-in campaign called Occupy Central, declared the official start of the movement, its leaders were aware that changing Beijing's mind would be nearly impossible. They decided to proceed anyway.

Success, they say, should be defined by the willingness of the people to participate in an 'illegal' campaign.

Losing momentum?

The first round of preparatory talks with student representatives and some government officials ended on Sunday night, and on Monday it was agreed that both sides would begin a formal dialogue.

"We will have multiple rounds of negotiation," said Lester Shum, deputy secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), one of the main protest movements.

On Monday night Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung called again on the protesters to end the demonstrations and disperse, but hundreds have remained on the streets.

On Tuesday, traffic jams continued on key routes on Hong Kong Island and across Victoria Harbour in Kowloon.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Only a few hundred protesters remained on the streets on Monday night as the crowds' momentum slowed down
Image copyright AP
Image caption Last week some protesters vowed to remain on the streets until Chief Executive Leung stood down
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The protests have been largely peaceful despite disturbances after tear gas was deployed by police last week

In the past week parts of central Hong Kong were brought to a complete standstill as huge crowds in the tens of thousands gathered on the streets in Hong Kong's financial district and over the harbour in Mong Kok.

The mass demonstrations have split opinion in Hong Kong, with many residents frustrated at the disruption caused by the protests.

Police said on Monday that at least 37 people had been arrested so far in Mong Kok, where there were clashes at the weekend between pro-democracy protesters and their opponents. Police said five other people had been arrested for allegedly hacking government websites.

On Monday the South China Morning Post reported that 59 prominent businessmen signed an open letter on the Occupy protests, saying: "Disrupting the social order of Hong Kong is not helpful to the development and discussion of the political reforms. Nor would it solve any problem."

The World Bank has said the demonstrations were hurting the economy of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong democracy timeline

  • 1984: Britain and China sign an agreement where Hong Kong is guaranteed "a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs" for 50 years following the handover in 1997.
  • June-July 2014: Pro-democracy activists hold an unofficial referendum on political reform and a large rally. This is followed by protests by pro-Beijing activists.
  • 31 August 2014: China says it will allow direct elections in 2017, but voters will only be able to choose from a list of pre-approved candidates. Activists stage protests.
  • 22 September 2014: Student groups launch a week-long boycott of classes in protest.
  • 28 September 2014: Occupy Central and student protests join forces and take over central Hong Kong
  • 2 October 2014: Chief Executive CY Leung refuses demands for his resignation, offers talks with government. Student leaders later accept the offer.
  • 2017: Direct elections for chief executive due to take place

Q&A: Hong Kong's democracy controversy

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