Hong Kong’s pro-democracy leaders ‘surrender’
HONG KONG // The original founders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy movement tearfully announced on Tuesday they would “surrender” by turning themselves in to police and urged protesters on the streets to retreat.
But frustrated demonstrators at the city’s main protest site said they felt “abandoned” by the move.
The announcement came after hundreds of pro-democracy protesters clashed with police late Sunday, leaving dozens injured in one of the worst nights of violence since rallies began over two months ago.
“As we prepare to surrender, we three urge the students to retreat — to put down deep roots in the community and transform the movement,” said Occupy Central leader Benny Tai.
Mr Tai said the trio would surrender to police on Wednesday in a commitment to the rule of law and “the principle of peace and love”.
Protesters who have blocked three major intersections in the city since late September to demand free leadership elections in the semi-autonomous city, said that they cannot leave until their demands have been met.
“The demand for civil nomination and true democracy has not been achieved and this site has not been cleared. Now they say they are turning themselves to police, the only thing I can say is that they abandoned us,” a 17 year old protester who only identified herself as Wong said.
“Now they talk about retreat. It is a betrayal of what we have insisted for all along,” said 24-year-old protester Raymond Tsang. “We should not consider an end to the campaign until there is a solid achievement.”
Teenage protest leader Joshua Wong paid tribute to Mr Tai and said the student groups leading the movement would “discuss” Occupy’s request.
“If Benny Tai did not publicise the idea of civil disobedience at the beginning, then there would be no umbrella movement today,” said Mr Wong, who began a hunger strike on Monday in a last-ditch attempt to force the government into further talks.
Academics Tai and Chan Kin-man and Baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming founded the Occupy Central civil disobedience group in early 2013 to push for political reforms, but have increasingly taken a back seat as more radical student groups came to the fore.
Tai praised the bravery of those at the front line of the mass occupations and criticised the police as “out of control”, but added that it was time for protesters to leave “this dangerous place”.
“Surrendering is not an act of cowardice, it is the courage to act on a promise. To surrender is not to fail, it is a silent denunciation of a heartless government,” Mr Tai said.
While there is no specific warrant out for the founders’ arrest, Hong Kong and Chinese authorities have consistently slammed the protests as illegal.
Mr Tai said he did not know how police would respond to their surrender, but that the three were prepared for any consequences.
He said the Occupy movement would now take a different direction to promote the civil disobedience campaign, including through education and a new social charter.
Experts say that the students are unlikely to listen to the Occupy Central leaders’ call for retreat.
“The students have always thought that they were the major protagonists of the movement and that Benny Tai and so forth have always been riding on their coattails,” political analyst Willy Lam said, though he added that this was an important turning point in the movement nonetheless.
“This will be a watershed, the fact that they are surrendering themselves means that, for the Occupy people, they think that phase one of this civil disobedience movement is over...and they are now conserving their strength for phase two, whatever that may be.”
Student-led demonstrators are demanding free leadership elections for the semi-autonomous Chinese city. China’s communist authorities insist that candidates for the 2017 vote must be vetted by a loyalist committee, which the protesters say will ensure the election of a pro-Beijing stooge.
The main protest camp continues to block a long stretch of a multi-lane motorway in Admiralty district in central Hong Kong. Violent clashes broke out there Sunday night in a fresh escalation of tensions, with officers firing pepper spray at angry students trying to surround government headquarters.
The city’s leader Leung Chun-ying warned Monday that the “intolerable” protests will come to nothing and hinted that further police action may take place.
* Agence France-Presse
Published: December 2, 2014 04:00 AM