By Viola Zhou
Hong Kong’s leader refused demands by pro-democracy protesters to resign Thursday and instead offered talks to defuse the massive demonstrations that have grown into the biggest challenge to Beijing’s authority since 1997.
Student leaders of the protests said early today they planned to join talks with the government, focused specifically on political reforms. They reiterated that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying step down, saying he had lost his integrity.
A wider pro-democracy group that had joined the demonstrations, Occupy Central, welcomed the talks and also insisted that Leung quit.
The students had threatened to surround or occupy government buildings if Leung did not step down and police warned of serious consequences if protesters carried out that threat.
Hong Kong Baptist University has sent an email to all its students, urging them to stop demonstrating.
“In view of the media reports about the possible confrontation at the demonstration scenes tonight, Hong Kong Baptist University urges all students who are now at the demonstration scenes, especially outside the Chief Executive’s Office, to leave as soon as possible for the sake of your own safety,” the email read.
Iverson Ng, a journalism major at HKBU, has been outside Leung’s office covering the protest overnight. He said the situation remains peaceful after the Leung’s press conference.
About 100 policemen in blue uniforms are standing outside the office, and those on the frontline are holding shields and spontoons, Ng said in a phone interview.
“It’s 6 a.m. in the morning,” he said. “Not only students are sitting here. There are elderly people and a lot of foreigners. Many people are tired as they have been staying up all night.”
Hong Kong people living abroad have been showing support to the democratic movement at home by organizing gatherings and collecting signatures.
Hong Kong senior Doris Ting has changed her Facebook profile to a picture of yellow ribbon, which is a symbol of the student protest. She said many of her friends in Hong Kong go to the protest area every day and sit on the ground for some time.
“I’m very proud,” Ting said. “This movement has shown the good side of Hong Kong. The protesters have been polite and in good order. I’m sure they won’t get violent.”
Ting said she wants people to know what Hong Kong people are doing, but she seldom talks about it with other Baylor students.
“They don’t ask, even though I share posts about Hong Kong on Facebook all the time,” she said. “American students don’t really care about things happening outside of the country.”
Ting said she would like to participate in one of the gatherings to support the protest.
“It’s impossible to have one here, as Baylor has very few Hong Kong students,” Ting said. “I know there is one in Houston. If I were there I would join.”
She said she is also trying to spread the word to students from mainland China, where domestic media are not allowed to mention the protest and foreign social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked.
Photo sharing application Instagram has been blocked in the mainland since Monday. Many inferred that it’s because pictures of protests in Hong Kong are circulated on it.
The protesters want Beijing to reverse its decision that all candidates in an inaugural 2017 election for chief executive must be approved by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing elites. They say China is reneging on its promise that the city’s top leader will be chosen through “universal suffrage.”
China took control of the former British colony in 1997, agreeing to let it keep civil liberties unseen on the mainland and promising that the leader can eventually be chosen through “universal suffrage.” But Beijing’s insistence on screening candidates for patriotism to China has stoked fears among democracy groups that Hong Kong will never get genuine democracy.
Ting said she doesn’t think the movement will change the mind of Chinese leaders in Beijing.
“It’s a moment of unity for Hong Kong and I support them spiritually,” Ting said. “But honestly this method won’t work. I don’t think a 1 millionpeople protest can change what the Chinese government does.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.