Weary protesters tried to force a showdown with the Hong Kong government last night, warning they would occupy various government buildings if their demands were not met. Yet the government refused to negotiate and police refrained from forcing thousands of protesters to vacate the three key protest sites they have occupied since Sunday.
The government’s “wait it out” strategy is bearing fruit, and tempers are beginning to fray at the protest sites. Protesters, most of them under 25, last night accused police of ferrying more ammunition and other weapons to the government headquarters at the protest site in Hong Kong’s Admiralty district.
A police spokesman told the South China Morning Post last night that “appropriate force” was an option – the first threat of its kind since the police use of tear gas and pepper spray last Sunday elicited a rain of condemnation and spurred tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents to join the protesters.
“We stress that police will not tolerate any illegal surrounding of government buildings,” the officer said, adding that firemen and police had visited the protest sites to conduct risk assessments.
In a statement released last night, the Hong Kong government said 3,000 government officials would try to return to work today (subs Friday) after two days of public holiday, warning that if the “siege” worsened, it would affect government services.
China remains adamant in the face of demands for free elections, staring down the protesters, who want to choose their own chief executive rather than choosing from a pool of Beijing-approved candidates. The protesters also want the current chief executive, CY Leung, to step down, claiming he is too close to Beijing.
Using economic leverage, China has also blocked mainland tour groups from visiting Hong Kong, a move which will hit many in the Hong Kong “special administrative region” hard. Fifty-four million Chinese tourists visited Hong Kong last year, spending almost one billion Australian dollars a week, the equivalent of almost 16 per cent of Hong Kong’s GDP.
Meanwhile, demonstrations supporting the protesters were held around the world, including rallies in Australia, the US, Canada and the Philippines.
The Anonymous hackers’ group also appears to have joined the fight, releasing a video clip declaring war. “To the Hong Kong police and any others that are called to the protests, we are watching you very closely and have already begun to wage war on you for your inhumane actions against your own citizens,” an Anonymous voice on the video.
Despite the lack of progress, many of the protesters are adamant they will stay put until the bitter end, happy to ignore the irritation expressed by other Hong Kong citizens.
Australian garment trader Lawrence Law, 37, returned to Hong Kong after living in Sydney for many years. Married with a daughter, he said he joined the protests because he feared China-style law taking hold in Hong Kong.
“I used to work in China, I saw a lot of injustice in that country, so I came to support this today,” he said, adding that he knew other Australians of Hong Kong origin who had spurned the protests. “Some are doing some sort of business in China. They don’t want to get involved.”
Vinci Wong, 24, a student affairs officer employed by a university and an ardent protest supporter, conceded that some shopkeepers and business-owners in Hong Kong had condemned the protests as self-indulgent and unnecessary. “Yes, some shopkeepers are angry,” he said. “But there are also shopkeepers donating resources. In a democracy there will always be two sides, you can’t avoid that.”
The Hong Kong government’s failure to respond to repeated demands has left the protesters at a loss. “Peace is the only thing we have to bargain with,” Wong said. “If there’s any violence, there will be a reason to clear us out”.