Hong Kong demonstrators continue to demand response from Beijing

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Photo: Raewadee Parnmukh

HONG KONG – On Thursday, student and Occupy Central leaders threatened to besiege government offices if Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying continues to reject any dialogue with the people and show no signal of making any concessions by the end of the day.

The escalation of actions is deemed necessary by pro-democracy leaders who have exhausted all legal means of pressuring the Hong Kong government into responding to popular demands for democracy. Their efforts have included rallies and meetings with Beijing to an unofficial referendum in which 800,000 voted for democracy. The controversial electoral reform process became the city's focus in January of 2013.

At least 200,000 demonstrators continued to block downtown roads as the protests entered into a sixth day.

Protest sites have now expanded to include Tsim Sha Tsui, a popular tourist destination that is normally crowded with mainland tourists. Police officers have retreated as far as possible from protesters and the overall atmosphere at the protests was calm.

Despite the public outcry for his resignation and resubmission of the electoral reform to Beijing, Leung Chun-ying said he would not resign. He has not indicated whether he will negotiate with pro-democracy leaders, and urged the protesters on Tuesday to "return home" and "engage in rational discussion."

University student leader Lester Shum accused Leung of employing "delay tactics" and "disregarding public opinion" in a statement.

Signs of fatigue

Resolute demonstrators, however, are showing signs of fatigue. Many have camped out or slept very little since last Friday. As the standoff between protesters and the Hong Kong government continues, people are concerned about how both sides can negotiate an endgame.

Protesters continue to donate and distribute supplies on their own initiative. Several medical organizations including the Red Cross are working to provide support for protesters, while marshalls from different groups maintain order.

Demonstrators are constantly on the lookout for suspicious individuals after learning that plainclothes and agents have infiltrated the protests.

Local media reported on Wednesday early morning a truck drove into the crowds in the Mong kok protest site. Yesterday a waterbomb was dropped in Causeway Bay where demonstrators were gathering. No one was injured and the police are investigating into the cases.

Many complained that the protest is becoming like a "festival" as artists and musicians entertain the crowds and people take pictures everywhere.

"Instead of chanting slogans and singing songs, we could be reaching out to the frontline police, who are tired and poorly paid and are likely to sympathize with the protesters. If we get their support, we will have a better chance of making the government compromise," said Paul Fong, a 24-year-old English language tutor who has been at the protests since last Monday.

However, others believe keeping the crowds energized is important.

"People are getting tired and need to feel supported by each other," said Gloria Fung, a student of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. "The crowds might appear to have lost focus at times when art booths are set up and people discuss other social issues, but I feel a sense of belonging to this temporary but strong, united community."

'A leaderless movement'

Efforts to bring the political reform back to focus have been made with students distributing self-made leaflets and putting up posters and stickers on road signs, barricades and walls to reiterate their demands.

Joshua Wong, leader of Scholarism, the group that led the citywide anti-patriotic education campaign in 2012, asked protesters to "please bear your request clearly in your mind. When you come to the protest, it should not be just for the sake of 'checking-in' on Facebook, nor should it be for the good feeling by tagging your photo on Instagram."

Wong also apologized for coming short of public expectation as the number of protesters is "way beyond [his] imagination" and applauded the public for successfully organizing a "self-initiated occupy movement" that is "steered by each and every Hong Kong citizen."

A one-page special edition by the Undergraduate student publication of the University of Hong Kong, widely circulated on the sites, lays out the movement's ultimate goal of full democracy and explains the long-term strategies of "guerrilla occupy to paralyze the city in the long run. 

The publication declares that "the Umbrella Movement is leaderless and does not need a leader; we must constantly monitor the statements made by Occupy Central, student leaders and other groups."

Meanwhile, teach-ins, screenings and sharing sessions take place in various spots at the five protest sites. Protesters engage in discussions about democracy and politics, while others chat or do schoolwork in groups.

In Causeway Bay where the majority of the protesters were students, many elderly and housewives stood by and watched, some in disapproval.

"These people I see here may be peaceful, but how can you ensure everyone is? You can't," said Ms. Hui, a 48-year-old housewife who lives nearby.

Such disapproval is not uncommon among the older generations who only learn about the protests through the local media, most owned by pro-Beijing businessmen or companies that do businesses in China, instead of participating and talking to the protesters themselves.

"A problem is that many in low-income families do not understand the urgency of the situation and only see the short-term benefits by accepting gifts from resourceful pro-Beijing political parties," said a 48-year-old caretaker who said she comes from a working class background. "None of my friends care about or agree with the protests."

The intergenerational divide is also apparent in the attitudes of young people, many of whom came to the protest without informing their parents, because their parents disapprove. Yoyo Wong, a 13-year-old student distributing yellow ribbons in Admiralty is one of those young people.

"I didn't tell my parents that I am here because I know they wouldn't let me, but I feel like this is a crucial moment in Hong Kong's history and I want to be able to say I have done something. I felt especially strongly about this after the crackdown last Sunday, because I was there and it was an absolutely peaceful demonstration. I don't understand why the police had to use teargas."

Ellie Ng is a recent graduate of Middlebury College currently based in Hong Kong.

Photo: Raewadee Parnmukh

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