Hong Kong leader agrees to talks after police brutality video

The offer by chief executive Leung Chun-ying came a day after video footage of plain-clothes officers beating and kicking a handcuffed demonstrator sparked widespread anger.

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HONG KONG // Hong Kong’s embattled leader made a dramatic u-turn on Thursday reopening his offer of talks with student protesters.

A week ago, the government abruptly pulled out of discussions aimed at ending more than two weeks of mass democracy rallies.

The offer by chief executive Leung Chun-ying came a day after video footage of plain-clothes officers beating and kicking a handcuffed demonstrator sparked widespread anger.

“Over the last few days ... we expressed a wish to the students that we would like to start a dialogue to discuss universal suffrage as soon as we can and hopefully within the following week,” Mr Leung said.

But questions remain over whether fresh talks can make any subtantial headway in the stalemate between the government and protesters.

Mr Leung warned that Beijing had no intention of retracting its decision that his successor be vetted by a committee loyal to China before standing for election in 2017 – a core demand of protesters.

“Politics is the art of the possible and we have to draw a line between possibilities and impossibilities,” he said.

The Asian financial hub has been rocked by mass rallies for nearly three weeks calling both for full democracy and Mr Leung’s resignation.

Ongoing sit-ins at three major intersections have caused significant disruption to a city usually known for its stability.

Protesters have called Beijing’s proposal a “fake democracy” and have vowed to remain on the streets until their demands are met despite growing impatience among some Hong Kong residents and attacks by pro-government thugs.

The city authorities pulled out of talks with the Hong Kong Federation of Students – one of the groups leading the protests – last Thursday.

The offer of new talks came after a spike in violence between police and protesters who battled over a series of barricades near the government’s besieged headquarters.

Police said seven officers involved in the beating video were now suspended pending an investigation.

“If any individual officer is suspected of using excessive force, police will investigate it in a just and impartial manner,” senior superintendent Kong Man-keung said.

The man who was beaten had been arrested after he threw an unknown liquid from a height onto multiple officers, Mr Kong said.

Tensions soared after the video was released on Wednesday with protesters saying they had lost all faith in the police.

The incident has become another public relations disaster for the police who were severely criticised for firing tear gas on umbrella-wielding protesters on September 28 in a move that attracted worldwide attention.

Amnesty International and the United States both called for a swift investigation of the officers.

Mr Leung also did not rule out further barricade clearances.

After weeks of largely ceding control to protesters at three main sites, police have begun probing demonstrator defences in the last few days, tearing down some barricades, sparking running battles.

Renewed clashes between police and protesters broke out in the early hours of Thursday over a contested road near Mr Leung’s offices.

Officers used pepper-spray against defiant demonstrators who shouted chants accusing the police of links to criminal triad gangs – but the flurry of violence was brief compared to the night before which saw some of the worst confrontations since the protests began.

The South China Morning Post, an English daily in the city, on Thursday called on protesters to vacate the streets, saying there was little chance of Beijing conceding to their demands.

“The campaign may end in a manner that no one desires. It is perhaps time the protesters considered retreating and reviewing their strategy,” the paper said in an editorial.

* Agence France-Presse