Hong Kong protests: Talks accepted amid protest stand-off

Protesters in Hong Kong have accepted an offer of talks with the government after a week of unrest.

Chief Executive CY Leung offered the talks with his deputy late on Thursday but rejected calls to resign.

The protesters, angry at China’s plan to vet election candidates, have been occupying parts of the city since the weekend, though numbers have fallen.

Beijing has thrown its full support behind Mr Leung, calling the protests illegal and “doomed to fail”.

On Friday, Hong Kong temporarily closed government offices in the main protest-hit area, saying staff should work from home because roads were blocked.

Though the protests were significantly smaller on Friday, some groups remained on the streets. In a sign of tensions, there were some scuffles as police tried to keep protesters back from the buildings.

The mood is a lot more subdued than on Thursday night when hundreds of protesters were pulling on masks and plastic covers and facing down the police, the BBC’s Saira Asher in Hong Kong says.

Scuffles also broke out in the Mong Kok district between protesters and residents who oppose the demonstrations. Similar disturbances were reported from the Causeway Bay area.

Police were sent to Mong Kok where pro-Beijing groups had reportedly tried to remove barriers and tents.

At a news conference, police heavily criticised protesters for obstructing traffic and blocking supplies reaching government offices.

“It is unreasonable, unnecessary and severely affecting emergency services and the life of the public,” police spokesman Hui Chun-tak said.

He urged protesters to leave the area outside the government buildings in an orderly fashion, but stressed the police would remain impartial and “exercise the greatest tolerance”.’Serious consequences’

On the issue of talks, the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) said it would have a public meeting with Ms Lam, but insisted that Mr Leung should step down, saying he had “lost his integrity”.

The Occupy Central movement issued a statement saying it hoped “the talks can provide a turning point in the current political stalemate”. It also called for Mr Leung’s resignation.

The students had threatened to escalate their protests and occupy government buildings if Mr Leung did not resign by Thursday night.

But hours before the deadline, he said in a news briefing: “I will not resign because I have to continue with the work for elections.” He warned that any attempts to occupy buildings would lead to “serious consequences”.

At the heart of the row is how Hong Kong elects its next leader. In August, Beijing ruled that while Hong Kong residents would have a vote, their choice of candidates would be restricted by a committee.

The protesters say this falls short of the free elections they are seeking.

Writing in the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s last British governor before the territory was handed back to China in 1997, Chris Patten, said that “open and honest” consultations were the way forward now.

“Dialogue is the only sensible way forward. Hong Kong’s citizens are not irresponsible or unreasonable. A decent compromise that allows for elections that people can recognise as fair, not fixed, is surely available.”

The US consul general to Hong Kong Clifford Hart said in a Facebook statement that “the common desire for Hong Kong’s welfare provides an excellent basis for launching dialogue”.