0813 GMT July 16, 2019
The concession, along with a preliminary agreement by student protesters to open talks with the government over their demands for democratic elections, appeared to have averted an immediate showdown between the demonstrators and the police. But the compromise was fragile, and protest leaders said the sit-ins would continue while they negotiated a framework for the dialogue.
The sit-in campaign, which entered its 11th day, appeared at a crossroads, plagued by confusion and seesaw reversals among demonstrators who were exhausted and increasingly divided over how to proceed. At least 1,000 protesters remained encamped on the street in front of the government’s headquarters and in a nearby public park overlooking Hong Kong’s harbor. Hundreds more occupied major thoroughfares in other neighborhoods.
“Each day, we don’t know if it will be our last here,” said Lam Ka-shing, 19, a protester who spent the night at a protest camp in the Mong Kok district, using his backpack as a pillow. “There are lots of police, and we didn’t know if they would use violence to force us out.”
“I was really scared last night,” he added, “but now the sun is almost out, I feel a lot better. We’ve made it to another day.”
Despite the government’s warning that protesters clear the road by morning, Lam said he had no plans to leave. “There’s no way we would go. They haven’t met our demands,” he said. “If we left now, everything we’ve done would be wasted.”
On Sunday night, the protesters began allowing vehicles through a gate leading to the offices of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying. But hours later, student leaders addressing a crowd of supporters said they were not retreating.
Alex Chow Yong Kang, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the groups at the forefront of the pro-democracy demonstrations, said the “Occupy” sit-ins would continue while the federation opened talks with the government. He warned that the talks would be suspended if the government made any attempt to drive away the protesters forcefully.
“A dialogue is not a compromise,” Chow said from a stage at the main protest camp. “We will start arranging talks with the government, because we understand that there are people in both the government and here who want to solve society’s problems.”
“We will not back down,” he added.
The Monday morning deadline had set up a potential confrontation between the passionate and often disjointed protest movement, and a government that, taking its cue from Beijing, has refused to compromise on the protesters’ broadly shared demands: Leung’s resignation and democratic elections for his successor.
The police used tear gas a week ago in an effort to disperse protesters, but more crowds arrived in response to what were perceived by many as unnecessarily heavy-handed tactics by the authorities.