Hong Kong‘s leader said Tuesday that China won’t back down from its decision to limit voting reforms in the Asian financial hub, dashing hopes that the standoff between demonstrators and authorities could be resolved quickly through negotiations.
As pro-democracy protests that have blocked Hong Kong’s streets entered a fifth day, the unequivocal statement from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying does not come as a surprise.
Leung, a Beijing appointee who is deeply mistrusted by the people, said that mainland communist leaders would not reverse their August decision requiring a pro-Beijing panel to screen candidates in the territory’s first direct elections, scheduled for 2017.
“The central government will not rescind its decision,” said Leung, adding that he wouldn’t step down before then – rejecting one of the protesters’ demands.
There was no immediate response from Occupy Central, the main civil disobedience group, but said in a Tweet that the broader pro-democracy movement had set a Wednesday deadline for Leung to meet their demands, which include genuine democracy and his resignation.
Despite Leung’s urgings that they disperse and go home, thousands of people – many of them university and high school students – gathered on a six-lane highway next to the local government headquarters.
The protesters’ chief demand is that they don’t want Beijing to screen nominees for Hong Kong’s leadership elections. They see the central government as reneging on a promise that the chief executive would eventually be chosen through “universal suffrage.”
Even larger crowds are expected to flood the streets Wednesday, China’s National Day holiday. The government said it was canceling a fireworks display to mark the day.
On Sunday, police shocked the city by firing tear gas at crowds, but protesters passed a peaceful night Monday singing as they blocked streets in several parts of Hong Kong. Crowds chanted calls for Leung to resign, and sang anthems calling for freedom.
Police said they used 87 rounds of tear gas Sunday in what they called a necessary but restrained response to protesters pushing through cordons and barricades. They said 41 people were injured, including 12 police officers.
Officials announced that schools in some districts of Hong Kong would remain closed Tuesday because of safety concerns, while dozens of bus routes were canceled and some subway stops near protest areas were closed.
The protests have been dubbed the “Umbrella Revolution” by some, because the crowds have used umbrellas to not only block the sun, but also to deflect police pepper spray. Political slogans calling for freedom have also been written on the umbrellas.