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Hong Kong protests in disarray as vote on next move scrapped

27 october 2014, 14:40
0

 Leaders of Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests on Sunday abruptly postponed a vote on their next steps due to differing opinions about how to move the month-long campaign forward, AFP reports.

Four weeks after tens of thousands of Hong Kongers took to the streets demanding free leadership elections for the semi-autonomous Chinese city, weary demonstrators remain encamped across several major roads.

But the crowds have shrunk dramatically on most weekdays and leaders are struggling to decide how to keep up the momentum.

With Beijing insisting that candidates for the 2017 vote must be vetted by a loyalist committee -- an arrangement the protesters deride as "fake democracy" -- there is no end to the stalemate in sight.

The vote by mobile phone had been set to take place on Sunday and Monday evening to gauge protesters' opinions on what the next moves should be.

But just hours before voting was due to begin, protest leaders told reporters they had been forced to call it off because of differing views on how it should be carried out.

"We decided to adjourn the vote... but it doesn't mean the movement has stopped," said Benny Tai of prominent pro-democracy group Occupy Central.

Organisers did not rule out rescheduling the vote, but were unable to say when it might take place or what it would be about.

    Retreat ruled out 

 Leaders bowed in apology for disappointing supporters of a movement that has come to be known as the "umbrella revolution", after the umbrellas wielded in the face of police tear gas.

"There have been a lot of conflicts and different opinions," student leader Alex Chow told reporters.

Leaders refused to be drawn on the nature of the disagreements, but Chow said there had been concerns over how to ensure that only protesters took part in the vote, amid worries opponents might try to hijack the process.

The vote would have asked demonstrators how to respond to tentative concessions offered by Hong Kong's government last week.

At talks Tuesday senior officials offered to file a report to Beijing about recent events, and suggested both sides set up a committee to discuss further political reform beyond 2017. Neither plan met with much enthusiasm from protesters.

But frustration is growing among residents after a month of traffic gridlock caused by the roadblocks, with sporadic clashes breaking out between police, protesters and opponents.

In the latest ugly scenes, four journalists were roughed up by angry pro-government demonstrators on Saturday evening at a counter-rally calling for democracy protesters to go home.

Police said a 61-year-old man had been arrested over the assaults, which the office of Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying condemned as a "savage act".

Protest leaders offered few insights into how they would proceed now the vote has been scrapped.

"At this stage of the movement every one of us is exploring which way to go," Benny Tai said.

A retreat was the only option that was ruled out, with student activist Joshua Wong saying it was "absolutely not the time" to quit the streets.

Surya Deva, a law professor at City University of Hong Kong, said Sunday's events showed the leadership was battling a "lack of clarity".

"It's the disadvantage any decentralised movement faces," Deva told AFP, adding that it needed to come up with a longer-term civil disobedience strategy.

Demonstrators had mixed views on the failed vote.

"I'm a bit disappointed," said Lily Su, an account executive at a technology firm.

"We're doing everything we can to try to get democracy, but nothing seems to happen."

But Matilda Law, an 18-year-old high school student, expressed relief. "I was worried that not many people would vote, and our opponents would use it to say, 'See? You have no support'."

There was a festive mood at the main protest site in Admiralty Sunday evening, with a few thousand people rounding off their weekend by listening to speeches and music in the city of tents that has sprung up outside government headquarters.

"Day 29!" one shouted from the stage, to a roar from the crowds.


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