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Hong Kong students escalate democracy strike

Scuffles, angry scenes as protesters move on government headquarters

Benjamin Haas for AFP, Hong Kong

Benjamin Haas for AFP, Hong Kong

Published: September 23, 2014 09:27 AM GMT

Updated: September 22, 2014 10:28 PM GMT

Hong Kong students escalate democracy strike

Students try to rush at Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (2nd left) at Chief Exectutive headquarters on Tuesday (AFP Photo/Xaume Olleros)

Hong Kong students attempted to rush the city's leader Tuesday as they took their anti-Beijing strike to government headquarters where hundreds protested against China's refusal to grant full democracy.

Organizers said 13,000 university students massed at a northern campus on Monday to launch a week-long boycott of classes, a strong showing that breathed new life into the democracy campaign which had been stunned by Beijing's hardline stance.

Activists say the student protest marks the start of a campaign of civil disobedience against China's plan to vet nominees for the leadership of the former British colony, dashing hopes for full universal suffrage at 2017 polls.

About a dozen students rushed towards Hong Kong's leader, chief executive Leung Chun-ying, on Tuesday when he emerged from the building after holding a press conference.

Leung was hustled away while security officials forced the students back, escorting them from the grounds as dozens of media joined the melee.

"This is a warning. Your actions have already severely disrupted order here," police said over loudspeakers, while in response protesters chanted: "Hong Kong belongs to us!"

Leung said at the press conference that authorities had "paid close attention to the demands for the election in 2017 by the university students" but that Beijing's proposals were an improvement on the current state of democracy.

"You can see that he has no intention of having a dialogue with the students," said Alex Chow, chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and one of the activists who challenged Leung.

Chow threatened an escalation of the protest action if Leung refuses to speak with students within 48 hours

Maurice Yip, a student at Baptist University, told ucanews.com that the demonstrators had obviously struck a nerve.

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“The protest has gotten an effect as we can see different government officials and tycoons are responding,” said Yip. “It isn’t a success yet, but we have gotten society to respond.”

'Up to the students'

The park outside the Hong Kong government's Tamar headquarters took on a carnival atmosphere as protesters trickled in under the summer sun, to attend a program including lectures on the lawns.

"The government officials, the legislators, they can look out their window and see us calling for true democracy," 20-year-old political science student Ester Wong told AFP.

"This park has a lot of significance in Hong Kong protest movements, and we're here to continue that tradition," she said, huddled with hundreds of others under the shade of trees and tents.

The students are heartened by past successes, including the government's 2012 backdown on a plan to implement patriotism classes, which was abandoned in the face of mass protests outside government headquarters.

"Someone needs to take the lead in showing the government they're wrong, and this time it's up to the students," said Ryan Lo, a 19-year-old theater student. "We oppose the Chinese government trying to limit the freedoms Hong Kong people deserve."

Chinese political dissidents including Beijing-based Hu Jia called on the international community to take action to prevent a repeat of the bloody crackdown on the student-led Tiananmen Square protests.

"As widespread demonstrations grow against Beijing's violation of its promise to allow universal suffrage, there is a danger the infamous 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square could be repeated in Hong Kong," they said in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.

"The United States and the international community share the responsibility to prevent another murderous massacre," they said.

Tensions in Hong Kong are at their highest in years, fuelled by rising inequality as well as Beijing's perceived interference in the affairs of the semi-autonomous territory.

A coalition of pro-democracy groups, led by Occupy Central, have labeled the election restrictions a "fake democracy" and have vowed to carry out a series of actions including a blockade of the Central financial district.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" agreement, which allows civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including free speech and the right to protest. AFP

Additional reporting by ucanews.com in Hong Kong.

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