Hong Kong leader ignores democracy demands as protests continue

Hong Kong's embattled leader has attended a ceremony to mark China's National Day after refusing to meet pro-democracy demonstrators.

Hong Kong leader ignores democracy demands as protests continue

Hong Kong's embattled leader has attended a ceremony to mark China's National Day after refusing to meet pro-democracy demonstrators.

Protesters have vowed to expand the street demonstrations that have posed the stiffest challenge to Beijing's authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997.

Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying took part in the ceremony - marking the anniversary of the founding of communist China in 1949 - as hundreds of protesters behind police barricades called for him to step down, although they fell silent and turned their backs when the ceremony began.

Helicopters flew past carrying the Hong Kong and Chinese flags, with the latter noticeably bigger.

In a speech, Mr Leung made no direct mention of the protesters, who have blocked streets for days across the city to press demands for genuine democratic reforms for Hong Kong's first direct elections in 2017 to choose the city's top leader.

Beijing has restricted the voting reforms, requiring candidates to be screened by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing local elites similar to the one who hand-picked Mr Leung for the job.

"It is definitely better to have universal suffrage than not," Mr Leung said.

"It is definitely better to have the chief executive elected by five million eligible voters than by 1,200 people.

"And it is definitely better to cast your vote at the polling station than to stay home and watch on television the 1,200 members of the Election Committee cast their votes."

As he spoke to a group of dignitaries, pro-democracy politician Leung Kwok-hung shouted for him to step down before he was bundled away by security.

Local councillor Paul Zimmerman held up a yellow umbrella - with umbrellas being used by protesters to deflect police pepper spray, they have become a symbol of the non-violent civil disobedience movement.

A peaceful protest will take place at 5.30pm today at the GPO Dublin to show support and solidarity with demonstrators in Hong Kong.

China took control of Hong Kong under an arrangement that guaranteed its seven million people semi-autonomy, Western-style civil liberties and eventual democratic freedoms that are denied to Chinese living on the communist-ruled mainland.

The territory's first direct elections are set for 2017, but the recent move by the Chinese government saying the special committee will screen the candidates is seen as reneging on a promise that the chief executive will be chosen through "universal suffrage."

Changing that is one of the major demands of the protesters.

Mr Leung's rejection of the student demands dashed hopes for a quick resolution of the five-day stand-off that has blocked city streets and forced some schools and offices to close.

Despite the hardening rhetoric from both sides, Tuesday night passed with a festive mood and few police were evident, but the crowds and road blockages are expected to grow sharply as Wednesday and Thursday are public holidays.

"Frankly, if I was a government official, I would not have a clue how to solve this," said Chit Lau, a 35-year-old pilot.

He thought the stalemate would continue until Mr Leung or some other top official resigned, or the army clashed with the people, adding: "This is a test of Hong Kong people's endurance of a peaceful act of requesting democracy, and so far the citizens have demonstrated a united spirit and discipline."

It was not clear what the demonstrators planned to do next. There were no immediate speeches or official statements from the protesters, who chanted "Jiayou! Jiayou!" - "Keep it up!" - while waving their mobile phone torches in the dark.

Earlier on Tuesday, Alex Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, the organiser of the university class boycotts that led to the street protests, said the students were considering options if their demands were not met, including widening the protests, pushing for a labour strike and occupying a government building.

Chinese president Xi Jinping, who has taken a hard line against any perceived threat to the Communist Party's hold on power, vowed in a National Day speech to "steadfastly safeguard" Hong Kong's prosperity and stability.

China's government has condemned the student-led protests as illegal, though so far it has not overtly intervened, leaving Hong Kong authorities to handle the crisis.

Over the weekend, police fired tear gas and pepper spray in an attempt to disperse the protesters, but the demonstrations only spread.

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