Mass protests in Hong Kong appear to have lost steam after the leader of the Chinese territory refused to step down, instead offering dialogue.
Student protesters had threatened to surround or occupy government buildings if Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying did not step down by midnight on Thursday, and police had warned of serious consequence for the protesters,
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Just minutes before the deadline, Leung held a news conference to offer the talks, but said “I will not resign”.
Although most overnight demonstrators had gone home by Friday morning, around 100 remained outside the government complex, which is now the focal point of protests that have brought parts of the city to a standstill for five days.
The demonstrators are calling on Beijing to guarantee full democracy to the former British colony, instead of vetting candidates who want to stand for the chief executive’s job in 2017 elections.
Al Jazeera’s Fauziah Ibrahim, reporting from the protest area as rain drizzled, said there was no indication of when the first dialogue meeting would happen, and that had “taken the wind out of the sails of the protest”.
“The spirit is quite damp, not just because of the rain,” she said.
She said protesters camped out outside Leung’s office were “quite despondent and jaded” and doubted that anything was going to change anytime soon.
Standing beside Leung in the midnight briefing was the territory’s top civil servant, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, and he asked her to arrange the talks. She said she would seek to meet with leaders of the demonstrations as soon as possible.
“I hope both sides will be satisfied,” she said. “Students had wanted a public meeting but I hope that we can have some flexibility to discuss details.”
The Hong Kong Federation of Students said in a statement early on Friday that they planned to join the talks with the government, focused specifically on political reforms. They reiterated that Leung 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 government said the Central Government Offices would be closed on Friday after some civil servants and other workers arriving for their shifts following a two-day holiday were unable to get past the barricades.
Relations between protesters and police have deteriorated since tear gas was fired to disperse crowds last Sunday and boxes carrying rubber bullets were seen being carried by officers on Thursday.
In an editorial on Friday, the People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, repeated Beijing’s stance of not offering concessions.
“Upholding the [August 31] decision of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress is the necessary decision, and the only decision,” it said, adding that the protests are “against legal principles, and doomed to fail”.