RAISING the stakes in their standoff with the authorities, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters have threatened to occupy key government buildings unless the territory’s top official resigns by the end of today.
The Chinese government, meanwhile, appeared to be losing patience. An editorial solemnly read on state TV said all Hong Kong residents should support authorities in their efforts to “deploy police enforcement decisively” and “restore the social order in Hong Kong as soon as possible.”
And the Communist Party-run People’s Daily warned of “unimaginable consequences” if the protests persist.
In the biggest challenge to Beijing’s authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997, thousands of demonstrators have clogged the streets of the Asian financial centre since Friday, demanding freer elections in Hong Kong.
Storming government buildings would risk inviting another clash with police like the one over the weekend. It also would put pressure on the Chinese government, which has backed Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s attempts to end the protests but has not openly intervened.
In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and said the US supports the “highest possible degree of autonomy” in Hong Kong. He said he hopes Hong Kong authorities exercise restraint and allow the protesters to express their views peacefully.
Mr Wang said that the protests are “China’s internal affairs” and that no country would allow “illegal acts” against public order.
One of the protest leaders, Lester Shum, vice secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said there was “no room for dialogue” with Mr Leung because he had ordered police to fire tear gas at demonstrators over the weekend.
“Leung Chun-ying must step down. If he doesn’t resign by tomorrow, we will step up our actions, such as by occupying several important government buildings,” he said, adding that demonstrators would not interfere with essential government agencies such as hospitals and social welfare offices.
Chan Kin-man, another protest leader, said the demonstrations will continue as long as the Hong Kong government fails to give a satisfactory response to their demands.
“I hope people will understand why the action keeps on escalating. It’s because the government is getting more and more closed without listening to Hong Kong people,” he said in an interview on the street.
The protests were triggered by Beijing’s recent decision that all candidates in the inaugural 2017 election for Hong Kong’s top post must be approved by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing local elites.