Tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators returned to Hong Kong’s financial district Friday night, galvanized by the government’s decision to cancel formal talks with student protest leaders a day earlier.
Splayed out across an occupied highway and leaning down from pedestrian overpasses, the throngs listened to speeches from lawmakers and protest leaders and sang the running anthem for the protest movement, “Do You Hear the People Sing” from the musical “Les Miserables.”
The show of force comes at a time when the Hong Kong government had been betting support for the movement is waning. Crowds during the week were much smaller and opposition to the demonstrations was growing because of disruptions to business and traffic.
On Thursday, Chief Secretary of Hong Kong Carrie Lam said she called off talks because students continued to demand freer elections and called supporters to expand the demonstrations.
Students denounced the move as an attempt to outlast the demonstrators in the court of public opinion.
“Carrie Lam said we had fewer people, but we all came back,” said Lester Shum of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the three main organizations leading the demonstrations. “We won’t give up.”
Student leaders called on supporters to prepare for a protracted battle, suggesting they bring more tents to Admiralty, the movement’s primary sit-in venue.
“I can keep coming here for weeks,” said Jack Wong, a 17-year-old demonstrator volunteering at a supply tent filled with water, snacks and foam tiles for protesters to sleep on. “I’m angry, disappointed and frustrated that the government canceled talks. They don’t have the willingness to solve the problem.”
Demonstrators want the right to elect their next chief executive, Hong Kong’s top post. They say residents were promised that in a compact between London and Beijing that set the framework for Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997.
But Beijing has indicated that candidates to run the city of 7 million will be screened by the Chinese government first.
The Hong Kong government has said it cannot negotiate a change to that plan, making it difficult for the two sides to agree on what to discuss should talks commence.
“The Chinese central government is never going to accept popular nomination,” said Michael DeGolyer, a professor of politics at Hong Kong Baptist University.
DeGolyer said room for compromise exists in reforming the government’s nominating committee for chief executive. Another point of negotiation could be the removal of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, who has been vilified by the demonstrators and fending off allegations of corruption after an Australian newspaper reported he pocketed $6.4 million in secret fees for facilitating the sale of a real estate services firm.
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