Hong Kong Protesters Set Wednesday Deadline for Reforms

Protesters camped out in Hong Kong for a fifth consecutive day are threatening to expand their campaign of civil disobedience if the territory’s chief executive does not meet their demand for democratic reforms.

In a short statement, the Occupy Central group said it will announce plans for its next stage of civil disobedience on Wednesday if Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying does not meet their demands, which include his resignation.

Leung has so far given no signs he will back down. In a speech Tuesday, Leung called for Occupy Central leaders to “fulfill the promise they made to society” and immediately stop the protests, which he said have gotten “out of control.”

It was Leung’s first comment since Sunday, when baton-wielding police used large amounts of tear gas and pepper spray to violently disperse the peaceful protesters.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators remain camped out in at least four major thoroughfares around the city Tuesday, defying government demands to leave the streets.

Many businesses, along with some subway stops and bus routes, remain closed because of the protests, which are also rattling investors.

Hong Kong stocks fell nearly 1.3 percent Tuesday, following losses of 1.9 percent a day earlier, further raising fears the unrest could take an economic toll.

Demonstrators, though, are pressing on. Many camped overnight in the streets of the financial district, while riot police shifted tactics and largely withdrew from the area. Police officers manned barricades and looked on, but did not repeat Sunday’s volleys of tear gas into the crowd. 

Eddie Fung, a 60-year-old construction officer, said he supports the student-led demonstrations.

“I think if we want something, sacrifices cannot be avoided. No pain, no gain, right? When I see the young people’s passion, I support them from deep within my heart. I hope there won’t be any bloodshed,” said Fung.

The White House said Monday the United States is closely watching the situation in Hong Kong, and supports freedom of assembly and expression. It urged authorities there to show restraint and called for protesters to be peaceful.

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday said police use of riot gear, pepper spray, tear gas and police batons, as well as the detention of peaceful protesters, “raise serious concern” about how the Hong Kong and Chinese governments will respond to the protests.

In a statement, the New York-based group said the protesters appear to pose no clear or imminent threat to public safety or property. Besides scattered instances of protesters shaking police barriers or throwing empty plastic bottles, it said there has been no protester violence.

The protests are the worst unrest in Hong Kong since Beijing took control of the one-time British colony in 1997.

Britain called for “constructive” talks that would lead to a “meaningful advance for democracy.” In Washington, the White House said the legitimacy of Hong Kong’s chief executive would be enhanced after the elections if the territory’s residents had a genuine choice of candidates.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying defiantly told a news briefing in Beijing, “Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong.”  She said China firmly opposes “any form of support” by foreign countries for what it said were “illegal” protests.

Some have called the student-led protests the “Umbrella Revolution,” as demonstrators have hoisted umbrellas against the sun and as flimsy protection against the police use of pepper spray.

The protesters are calling for open nominations for the 2017 elections, but Beijing says it will review and approve the list of candidates.

Many businesses, along with some subway stops and bus routes, remain closed Tuesday because of the protests.

Hong Kong shares on the Hang Seng tumbled 1.9 percent Monday, raising fears the unrest could take an economic toll on the territory. On Tuesday, Hong Kong stocks fell a further .4 percent at the start of trading.

After months of threatening a massive sit-in, organizers of “Occupy Central with Love and Peace” said early Sunday the occupation of the streets outside government headquarters had officially begun.

The announcement came hours after riot police in Hong Kong arrested dozens of student protesters who forced their way into government headquarters late Saturday.

Thousands of university students abandoned classes all week to take part in the pro-democracy campaign.

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