HONG KONG - Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying issued an ultimatum Saturday, calling on the tens of thousands of protesters to withdraw from the business district’s main thoroughfare so schools and government offices can re-open Monday.
At the main protest site, activists say they are fearful of riot police using force to clear the streets, but that Leung’s words will not deter them from their peaceful protest.
Alex Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students addressed protesters at Sunday night’s rally. The activists have opened a dialogue with moderate government representatives, but will have no discussions with Leung himself, he explains.
“We all agree that negotiation is a must if we want to achieve significant progress. And it is [remains to be real] whether the government is sincerely wishing to have a deal with Hong Kong citizens,” says Chow.
Leung made his demands a condition of commencing a negotiated solution to the occupation. While the students have agreed to give access to the central government complex, they will not withdraw from the business district, insists Chow.
“For sure not. You can see the bridge, the pathway up there [by the Central Government Complex] it is open. So they have no excuse to eliminate the citizens here right now. Of course, we are still very concerned about the safety of citizens here, so we will still ask our marshals to observe if the police act,” says Chow.
The protesters remain calm and determined. But Sunday night there was a palpable sense of concern in the air.
Anna Chow, a 21-year-old student, manages a first-aid station. Wearing a gas mask and goggles after being tear-gassed last week, she says while she feels afraid she believes police brutality will only bring more supporters out to the streets.
“It is unacceptable. We are all educated. How can it happen in Hong Kong? I really don’t trust the police,” says she.
Inside the Admiralty metro station, a main transport hub for the occupation, three teenaged campaigners pored over a crude map. They are the evacuation team, responsible for planning an exit strategy for the tens of thousands of protesters who remain on site, should a police offensive cause another stampede.
Zinnia Yip explains that the most important thing is the welfare of the activists and their ability to continue their protest.
Things are uncertain, she says, warning everyone to just be safe.
If you sense anything is strange or if you smell smoke, you have to run. There is nothing more important than your own safety,” advises Yip.
With the government apparently taking a tougher stance on ending the “Occupy” protests in Hong Kong, the mood on the street remains resolutely determined.