Tensions mounted in Hong Kong on Thursday ahead of the deadline set by pro-democracy activists for the city’s Beijing-backed Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to step down.
Hong Kong police warned of serious consequences if pro-democracy protesters try to occupy government buildings, as they have threatened to do if the territory’s leader did not resign by Thursday.
Both the Chinese government and the pro-democracy protesters seemed to be losing patience after the week-long street protests challenging Beijing’s communist authority.
Thousands of protesters are continuing the stand-off with police with huge crowds filling the streets for the sixth day. The demonstrations are sparked by Beijing’s decision to pre-screen nominations of candidates for Hong Kong’s first-ever leadership election in 2017.
Leung Chun-ying had attended China’s National Day celebrations on Wednesday and was heckled by protesters. Student protesters, meanwhile, were barred from the official flag-raising ceremony in Hong Kong but gathered outside to jeer the nationalist display.
The pro-democracy student activists, led by ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’, had set the national day as the deadline for a response from the government. However, the Hong Kong leader has slammed the protests and said Beijing will not change its position on the elections.
The protests have been dubbed the “Umbrella Revolution”, as the stand-off stretched into its fourth day, because the crowds have used umbrellas to not only block the sun but also to help protect them from pepper spray and tear gas being fired at them by police.
Meanwhile, China’s foreign minister has warned the US and other foreign countries on Thursday not to meddle in China’s “internal affairs” before meeting US President Barack Obama.
Wang Yi told Kerry that “all countries should respect China’s sovereignty and this is a basic principle of governing international relations”.
“I believe for any country, for any society, no one would allow those illegal acts that violate public order. That’s the situation in the United States and that’s the same situation in Hong Kong,” he said.
However, Obama told Wang Yi at a White House meeting that the US was watching the Hong Kong protests closely.
Kerry repeated US calls for Chinese authorities to show restraint towards the mass protests challenging the communist government.