HONG KONG, Sept 30 – Thousands of protesters clamoring for full democracy in Hong Kong stood their ground Tuesday even as the head of its government said China won’t give in to their demands. Protesters camped out with masks, protective goggles and plastic raincoats on the main road leading into the city’s central business district — bracing for a potential encore to the fierce police crackdown that engulfed the crowd in tear gas two days earlier. Hong Kong Chief Executive C.Y. Leung urged protesters to clear the roads Tuesday, saying they might pose a risk to public safety.
“The main roads are used by fire trucks and ambulances. They now have to take a detour, so we urge the society to think about this,” Leung said. But his words didn’t have much effect on protesters demanding the right to choose their next leader without interference from Beijing. “All the candidates will be pre-selected by Beijing. … It’s more or less like North Korea,” protest organizer Chan Kin-man told CNN. “But we are an international city. We have a younger generation who have been taught about civil rights, political rights. And we want our words to be heard.”
Why are the protesters irate?
Hong Kong residents were supposed to be able to freely elect their leader — called the chief executive — for the first time in 2017. It was part of the deal made when Britain handed the city back to China in 1997. That election was going to be momentous because currently, Hong Kong’s leader is elected by a 1,200-strong committee stacked with Beijing loyalists. But just last month, China said it would allow only Beijing-vetted candidates to participate in the 2017 election — an apparent backtrack of its earlier promise.
Leung said Tuesday that China will not back down from its position on Hong Kong. “Based on the basic law, we will be able to have one-person, one-vote universal suffrage,” Leung said. “I understand this universal suffrage is somewhat different to what the public thinks it would be. But this is based on the basic law. We still want to remain peaceful, calm and think what the best is for Hong Kong.” Protesters, meanwhile, are calling for Leung’s resignation.
“The simplest solution is C.Y. Leung steps down. It will defuse the whole situation,” 42-year-old Novelle Wong told CNN. “But because the system hasn’t changed, there will be another C.Y. coming up. This ordeal will happen all over again.” The demonstrations increased over the weekend after gaining the support of Occupy Central with Love and Peace, a protest group that was already planning to lead a campaign of civil disobedience later this week against the Chinese government’s decision
What about counter-protesters?
Not all Hong Kongers support the popular protest movement. Pro-Beijing groups like “The Silent Majority for Hong Kong” say the activists will “endanger Hong Kong” and create chaos. They have held their own rallies against Occupy Central and ran advertising campaigns in local media to highlight their fears. Businesses fear that any campaign targeting the city’s financial district will harm Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe and stable place to do business.
How violent has this gotten?
Tuesday’s protest has been peaceful so far, but just two days ago police hurled 87 tear gas canisters into the crowd — much to the alarm of those who considered the gathering peaceful. “We gave them enough of a chance to leave, and this included warnings,” Assistant Police Commissioner Cheung Tak-keung said of protesters at a news conference Monday.
“But when they failed, we had to use force.” Both Hong Kong and Chinese officials have called the protests illegal. At least 56 people have been injured so far, a Hong Kong government spokeswoman said. At least 12 police officers were among the injured, authorities said. Police say they’ve arrested 89 people since protests began, accusing them of forcible entry into government premises, disorderly conduct in public, assaulting police officers and obstructing police.
What’s the impact?
The protests have brought widespread disruption to the heart of one of Asia’s biggest financial centers. On Tuesday, 37 branches or offices of 21 banks were closed, the Hong Kong Information Services Department said. It said ATM services were also disrupted in some areas. In an indication authorities don’t expect the demonstrations to end soon, the Hong Kong government said it was canceling the city’s annual fireworks display on Wednesday — China’s National Day — because of the protests.
Some analysts say they see little hope of compromise between the committed protesters and the Chinese Communist Party, which remains notorious for its ruthless suppression of pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. “I see no way the Chinese government can tolerate what is happening in HK. Greatly fear this will end badly,” tweeted Mike Chinoy, a senior fellow at the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California, who covered the Tiananmen crackdown for CNN.
Chinese authorities apparently tried to restrict the flow of information into the mainland about what was happening in Hong Kong. On Tuesday, China blocked out reporting on Hong Kong in mainland China, CNN Beijing Correspondent David McKenzie said. Earlier, censors had blocked access to Instagram after images of the protests flooded the photo-sharing app. “Everybody is in completely unknown territory,” said Roderic White, an associate fellow at London-based Chatham House. “How these things end, we just don’t know.”