Occupy Central, a network of pro-democracy activists and university students who have brought much of central Hong Kong to a standstill in a weeks-long sit-in protest against what they see as mainland Chinese interference in the election of the former British colony‘s chief executive, have cancelled a vote on what their next steps will be in their street occupation, reports the Voice of America in Asia. The vote was dropped only hours before it was meant to take place, suggests reports from Hong Kong.
Following landmark talks between leaders of the protest movement and representatives of the Hong Kong SAR assembly, the city-state’s authorities had planned to send a letter to the Beijing cabinet. The letter was to illustrate protesters’ opposition to China’s decision to pre-approve candidates for the 2017 elections in Hong Kong. Candidates with a pro-Beijing stance are more likely to be favoured in the selection process, several world media have reported.
The Hong Kong government also offered to hold more talks with Occupy Central protesters on democratic reform, with a proviso that the protesters withdraw from the street sit-ins and barricades they have erected all over Central’s main roads. Senior leaders of the protest have rubbished the overture by the Leung administration, saying the proposals were insufficient, however others in the camp have said that a protesters’ referendum is needed to get everyone’s viewpoints aired. It is not known when the vote on the future or intensity of the protests will be rescheduled, Voice of America said.
Tens of thousands of protesters have built camps around the Central district, blocking main traffic routes and threatening to extend their occupation to government buildings if their demands for more democracy in Hong Kong were not met. The protests soon degenerated into anarchy as local police began teargasing and arresting protesters en masse. Protesters began using umbrellas to shield themselves from the highly disabling gas, leading the international media to dub the protests the ‘Umbrella Revolution’. Police there have been accused of acting heavy-handed in their treatment of people participating in Occupy Central, including one protest leader who was dragged by officers into a side street and viciously beaten. The policemen involved were suspended after footage of the assault on activist Ken Tsang, which was caught on camera phone, was widely broadcast on television.
Both Beijing and Hong Kong authorities have condemned the protests as ‘illegal’ and that they do not reflect the will of the majority of Hong Kong residents. Beijing has also alleged the presence of foreign involvement and interference in the protests, while sympathisers and supporters of democracy in the region have staged simultaneous protests in solidarity with Occupy Central in several major cities across the world, often in front of Chinese embassies. This past Thursday, the protesters received support from the United Nations Human Rights Commission, which urged China to rethink its vetting of candidates for the elections in three years’ time. The UN agency called on Beijing to ensure ‘universal suffrage’ in Hong Kong, including the “right to stand for elections.”
Occupy Central began after local protesters, including many university students who grew up during the current SAR era, began occupying the streets of Hong Kong’s financial heartland, the Central district to demand the resignation of the special administrative region’s chief executive Chun-Ying Leung and for Beijing to give up its plans for nominating future chief executives and government leaders according to their level of support for the People’s Republic. Hong Kong has been administered as a ‘special administrative region’ in China since the handover from the U.K. in 1997. Under the ‘one country, two systems’ policy, Hong Kong’s democratic setup was to be left intact for fifty years, but increasingly, China’s government has been called into question by external observers for dampening democratic reform.