HONG KONG (AP) — Thousands of protesters poured into a main road in Hong Kong for a pro-democracy rally late Friday Hong Kong time, reviving a civil disobedience movement a day after the government canceled talks with student leaders aimed at defusing the standoff.
The resurgence came after a week that saw flagging support for the protesters, who have blocked off main roads and streets in three of Hong Kong’s busiest areas since Sept. 28. Some of the roads have reopened to traffic, but a main thoroughfare through the heart of the business district remains occupied.
“If short-term protests won’t work, there will be long-term protests,” Joshua Wong, a charismatic 17-year-old student leader, told loudly cheering crowds. “This movement will not lose to the government.”
Students and activists demanding a greater say in choosing the city’s leader have vowed to stay until the government responds, while the government has repeatedly urged protesters to withdraw from the streets and allow the city to return to normal.
Officials had agreed to meet with student leaders but called off negotiations Thursday, saying the grounds for dialogue had been “severely undermined” by the students’ call for more people to occupy the streets.
Amid the political crisis, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who is visiting Berlin, said he was confident “social stability” can be preserved in Hong Kong and stressed that Beijing won’t change its “one country, two systems” approach to running the territory.
“I am convinced that Hong Kongers, with their wisdom, are in a position — and that the (Hong Kong) government has the authority — to preserve the prosperity of the city and also social stability,” said Li, who did not mention the demonstrations directly.
When negotiating the handover of Hong Kong from Britain, China’s Communist leaders agreed to a “one country, two systems” model that would preserve Western-style civil liberties and broad autonomy in the city.
Li said Beijing always implemented the “two systems” approach “and it will stay that way.”
Student leaders say it is up to the government to resolve the crisis.
“If they do not give a just, reasonable answer to all the occupiers, there is no reason to persuade people to retreat,” said Alex Chow of the Federation of Students.
Crowds filling up the Admiralty area, near the city’s government headquarters, chanted “I want true universal suffrage” and “Our Hong Kong, Ours to Save.” Many of those gathered near a stage in the main protest zone were young people, including high school students in uniforms, but there were also office workers who came straight from work.
“We don’t want to see a government that treats people this way, where thousands can protest for weeks on the street and not get any response at all,” said Natalie Or, 16.
“Maybe they think if they keep delaying people will disperse on their own, but my friends and I aren’t going anywhere. I’ll come for months, I’ll stay for a year, I’ll stay for as long as it takes,” she added.
Tens of thousands of people have occupied the semiautonomous Chinese city’s streets in the past two weeks to protest Beijing’s restrictions on the city’s first-ever direct elections for its leader, promised for 2017.
Beijing said a 1,200-member committee stacked with pro-government elites should nominate two or three candidates before the public votes. Protesters want those restrictions revoked because they provide no real choice and do not amount to genuine democracy.
Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.