Authorities in Hong Kong have offered to hold talks with pro-democracy protesters who are continuing to occupy centreal areas of the southern Chinese city, pressing for political reforms.
Minutes before a midnight deadline set by the protesters for Hong Kong’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying to resign passed, Leung said he would send his chief secretary to meet the demonstrators.
|Notes from the field – Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan|
It’s hard to say which way these protests will go, but the police have made it clear that what the protesters are doing is illegal and if they don’t comply with warning the police will take “resolute action”. The protesters are well prepared though for any eventuality, they have been handing out homemade anti-riot gear, towels and other equipment. More impressively though, they have been handing out leaflets on what to do if they are arrested, with a hotline number for legal advice.
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He said he had no intention of stepping down.
The students had earlier on Thursday threatened to escalate their protests – including occuptation of government buildings – unless Leung stepped down.
He warned the protesters of serious consequences if they chose to storm government buildings.
Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, reporting live from Hong Kong, said Leung gave no time-frame for the talks.
She said that Leung’s statement was played on loudspeakers to the protesters outside and was received with a lot of booing.
She noted that the crowd had become noisier since the speech. but there had been no attempts made so far to cross the barrier.
Thousands of protesters have been camping out in the main streets of the Chinese autonomous region for the past several days.
Earlier, Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, also reporting from Hong Kong, said that some protesters had started to occupy the area next to Leung’s office on Thursday morning.
The Associated Press news agency reported that police manned barricades at a nearby intersection, with protesters camped on the other side, huddled under umbrellas.
“It’s too late for [Leung’s] government to be accountable to the people, so we want a new one,” May Tang, a 21-year-old student protester, told AP.
With the protests showing no signs of waning, Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, issued the warning to the US and other foreign countries not to interfere.
|China pulls tours to Hong Kong amid protests|
Reuters news agency, citing an official source, reported that Leung was willing to let the demonstrations go on for weeks if necessary.
Speaking in Washington, Wang said China would not tolerate “illegal acts that violate public order”.
The People’s Daily newspaper, the government’s official newspaper, said in a commentary on Thursday that Beijing “fully trusts” Hong Kong’s Leung, and that it is “very satisfied with his work”.
The week-long street protests by thousands of demonstrators pressing for electoral reforms in Hong Kong are the biggest challenge to Beijing’s authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997.
The protests erupted after the Chinese government restricted who can run as the commercial hub’s next chief executive, or leader, in elections scheduled for 2017.