Hong Kong protesters and leaders talk but don't agree

Hong Kong student leaders and government officials hold talks to end pro-democracy protests now in their fourth week, even as the city's Beijing-backed leader reaffirmed his unwillingness to compromise on the activists' key demand.

Leung Chun-ying says government won't let public nominate candidates to replace him in 2017

Pro-democracy protesters watch formal talks between student protest leaders and city officials on a video screen near the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Tuesday. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Hong Kong student leaders and government officials held talks Tuesday to end pro-democracy protests now in their fourth week even as the city's Beijing-backed leader reaffirmed his unwillingness to compromise on the activists' key demand.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying told reporters that the government won't let the public nominate candidates to run in inaugural direct elections to succeed him in 2017, as demanded by thousands of protesters camping out on main streets across the city. But he added that there's room to discuss how to form a key 1,200-member committee that would pick candidates.

Leung Chun-ying said such changes could be covered in a second round of consultations over the next several months.

"How we should elect the 1,200 so that the nominating committee will be broadly representative, there's room for discussion there," Leung said. "There's room to make the nominating committee more democratic, and this is one of the things we very much want to talk to not just the students but the community at large about."

Protesters have occupied main streets in three areas of the city since Sept. 28 to demand that the government abandon plans to use the screening committee.

Soon after Leung spoke to The Associated Press and three other news agencies, top officials from his government began much-awaited, televised talks with student leaders.

In opening remarks, student leader Alex Chow said that an August decision by China's legislature ruling out so-called civil nomination and requiring the nomination committee has "emasculated" Hong Kong.

"We don't want anointment," said Chow, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of three groups leading the protests.

Government officials stuck to the official position that Hong Kong's mini-constitution cannot be amended to accommodate protesters' demands, while also saying that many others don't share their views.

Talks up on big screens

"We hope you would understand that there are a lot of people who are not in Mong Kok, who are not in Admiralty, many people at home who aren't insisting on civil nomination," said Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen.

People gathered at the three main protest zones watched the talks on big screens, frequently cheering at remarks by the student leaders.

But many held little hope that the talks would end the impasse, though they thought broadcasting them would help get their position out to the wider population.

"I think we all understand that we can't really get any concrete results," said protester Vee Chow, sitting outside her tent. "But at least an open dialogue can tell everybody why we are all here."

Leung said one obstacle to resolving the conflict has been what he said was a lack of organization by student leaders.

Could consider changes

"There is no consensus on the part of the occupiers as to what will make them leave," Leung said.

He said the government could consider changes to the nomination process such as replacing corporate votes with individual ballots in the nominating committee, as suggested Monday by former Chief Secretary Anson Chan.

When asked about a possible timeline for clearing the demonstrators, Leung said that would be determined by the situation on the street.

"It is a question of us having a duty to prevent and stop clashes from happening," Leung said. "Patience within the community is running very thin."

Leung refused to answer in detail several questions about the possible role of central Chinese authorities in managing the crisis, only saying, "We don't have any instruction from Beijing about when and how we clear these streets."


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