Updated at 8:30 a.m. ET
Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying is appealing to pro-democracy demonstrators who’ve brought parts of the Asian financial hub to a standstill in recent days to halt their campaign “immediately” because, he says, Beijing won’t accede to their demands. But protesters have promised to announce a new phase of civil disobedience if reforms aren’t forthcoming.
Days of protests organized by the Occupy Central movement have shut down some of the city’s main business districts. The demonstrators were met over the weekend by riot police firing teargas.
“Occupy Central founders had said repeatedly that if the movement is getting out of control, they would call for it to stop,” said Leung, the territory’s chief executive, in a translation by the BBC.
“I’m now asking them to fulfill the promise they made to society and stop this campaign immediately,” he said.
NPR’s Anthony Kuhn, reporting from Hong Kong, says key urban intersections occupied by protesters overnight were quiet or deserted Tuesday morning local time after protesters said they were giving Leung until Wednesday to respond to calls for his resignation and for Beijing to fulfill promises of free elections to choose his successor. (Hong Kong is 12 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast.)
Wednesday is National Day in China, marking the anniversary of the Communist Party’s founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
Reuters says protesters were stockpiling supplies and erecting barricades as “rumours have rippled through crowds of protesters that police could be preparing to move in again, as the government has vowed to go ahead with celebrations.”
“Many powerful people from the mainland will come to Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government won’t want them to see this, so the police must do something,” Sui-ying Cheng, 18, a freshman at Hong Kong University’s School of Professional and Continuing Education, told Reuters. she added: “We are not scared. We will stay here tonight. Tonight is the most important.”
Following clashes with demonstrators over the weekend, Hong Kong police have largely withdrawn from the protest areas in and around Admiralty district.
In a news conference on Tuesday, Police Chief Superintendent Steve Hui Chun-tak stressed that police never meant to “open fire” on protesters on Sunday.
“Pressed on whether police planned to shoot rubber bullets that day, [Hui] refused to answer directly, only stressing that they ‘never intended to fire any shots.’
“Hui suggested a warning sign held up by officers before they shot tear gas may have caused confusion.
” ‘The flag has two sides; the side in black says “warning: tear smoke,” while the other side says “disperse or we fire,” ‘ he said. ‘We never meant to show [the other side of the flag] to the crowd in the front, and we had absolutely no intention to open fire.’ ”
“Only pepper spray, batons and tear gas were used, he said.”
Short of the unlikely wholesale acquiescence to the protesters’ demands, The New York Times suggests that options remain in which both sides could save face:
“One is replacing Mr. Leung, a figure much loathed by the pro-democracy advocates. The call among the protesters for his ouster is almost universal. On one street on Monday, protesters had decorated a bus to resemble a coffin for Mr. Leung. Elsewhere, people denounced a cardboard effigy of his face.
“Such a move might be enough to sap energy from the protesters, even though it would be unlikely to meet their demands. If Mr. Leung were ousted, Beijing would almost certainly install someone equally beholden to the party and equally illegitimate in the eyes of many in Hong Kong.
“There could also be ways for Beijing to give Hong Kong voters more say in choosing members of the election committee, which it has said will select two or three candidates for chief executive. That could be done without truly relinquishing Beijing’s control, but even the appearance of compromise might be more than Mr. Xi [Chinese President Xi Jinping] can muster.”