Three founders of the pro-democracy protest group Occupy Central with Love and Peace called on Tuesday for students to end their occupation of city streets, but student leaders vowed to press on.
The middle-aged leaders of the Occupy movement raised the idea of using civil disobedience in the former British colony to push for greater democracy last year, but student protest groups have been at the forefront of the two-month-long street demonstrations—and student leaders on Tuesday quickly rejected the idea of abandoning their encampments.
In an emotional plea on Tuesday, the Occupy leaders said they feared the clashes between protesters and police were escalating at a dangerous pace and urged the students to stand down. The Occupy leaders also said they planned to surrender to police on Wednesday over their role in the mass demonstrations.
“In past few days, we can see the police are increasingly out of control. We don’t know how much more violence they would impose on occupiers. We hope occupiers retreat from the protest sites,” Occupy leader and law professor Benny Tai told a press briefing, jointly attended by the other co-founders of the Occupy group, Chan Kin-man, a sociology professor, and the Rev. Chu Yiu-Ming.
By surrendering to the police, “we will bear the legal consequences and hope the students will retreat,” Mr. Tai said in a prepared statement. Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former head of Hong Kong’s Catholic Church and a core supporter of the Occupy group, said he would surrender to the police together with the trio Wednesday. No pro-democracy lawmakers announced plans to turn themselves in.
Mr. Chu, 70, the eldest of the Occupy leadership trio, tearfully recounted the sorrow he felt over seeing images of police beating young protesters with batons and forcibly dragging away the demonstrators to stop their actions.
“This all made me, this old man, deeply sad. Many times, I knelt down on my knees to pray for God to protect us. And I hope all participants of this movement could safely go home,” he said.
Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security Lai Tung-Kwok said police would handle the Occupy leaders’ surrender according to established police protocol.
“Any persons who intend to turn themselves in because they believed that they had breached the laws, of course, it is welcome,” Mr. Lai said.
Hong Kong authorities have long maintained that the street protests are illegal activities and have sought court injunctions to remove demonstrators from the encampments. Violence has flared in recent days as police have become more assertive in their attempt to clear protesters off the streets.
Earlier this week, police used batons and pepper spray to push back students who had seized control of a street by the Hong Kong government headquarters. More than 200 people have been arrested in the past week. Authorities said dozens of people have been injured in the clashes, including several police officers.
Police cleared one of the three protest sites in the city last week, and were expected to move against the other two sites in the coming days, but student protesters insisted that they would continue their occupation.
Tommy Cheung, a leader of student protest group the Hong Kong Federation of Students, told reporters on Tuesday evening that the students respected the Occupy group’s advice, but he said students wouldn’t surrender their encampments. “We will ultimately bear the legal responsibilities,” he said.
Joshua Wong, the leader of another student protest group, Scholarism, who was arrested during protests last week, lauded the Occupy leaders for spreading the idea of civil disobedience to the broader public. But Mr. Wong also said students wouldn’t end protests now. Mr. Wong joined with two fellow students to start a hunger strike late Monday night in a bid to restart talks with the government.
Students and other protesters have been demanding the right to publicly nominate and vote for candidates for the city’s top leadership post, the chief executive. Beijing has said that China’s central government has the right to vet candidates before they can run for the top office. On Monday, current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying repeated his stance that Beijing’s decision was non-negotiable.
The Occupy group first raised the idea of street occupations in early 2013 to paralyse Hong Kong’s central business district to push for changes to the city’s election process. The group held multiple forums and an unofficial referendum over a year and a half to build support. The group initially planned to have a sit-in starting on Oct. 1 that will last for a couple of days.
But a week-long class boycott initiated by students at the end of September ultimately evolved into a widespread occupation overtaking the Occupy group’s momentum and side-lining the group’s leaders from the street protests.
Source: The Wall Street Journal