ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Updated: September 22, 2014 12:43 AM GMT
Thousands of students boycotted classes on Monday to take part in a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong (Photo: ucanews.com)
An estimated 13,000 students boycotted classes and took to the streets of Hong Kong on Monday at the start of a week-long protest against China’s decision to restrict democratic reforms starting in three years.
In the latest phase of an increasingly divisive struggle for the political future of Hong Kong, students from 25 universities and colleges held banners that read “democracy now” and “disobey and grasp your destiny”.
Alex Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and chief organizer of the strike, called on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to enter dialogue with the students and other critics of China’s political reform process.
“Or else, we have no choice but to intensify our actions further to other forms of a civil disobedience movement,” he said, in an open letter to Leung read out at Monday’s protest.
The protest follows the announcement late last month by China’s top decision-making body, the Standing Committee, that a panel hand-picked by Beijing will nominate candidates for elections when political reforms in Hong Kong start in 2017.
Protesters have called for universal suffrage, which allows the electorate to choose candidates, which would dissolve much of Beijing’s control over Hong Kong.
Protests this week will include lectures by more than one hundred university professors and prayer gatherings with secondary school students joining the boycott of classes for one day on Friday.
Footage of today's student rally in Hong Kong (ucanews.com)
This week’s strike will be followed by Occupy Central, a driving force behind upcoming anti-Beijing protests expected to take place on 1 October.
“[A] class boycott is not our end-goal or the only method. We hope to tell our fellow school mates and citizens what we are fighting for through the strike,” Sai Wang, a 23-year-old student leader, told ucanews.com. “We also hope to use this week to explore what we can do and our next step through those public lectures.”
The first day of student protests on Monday coincided with a meeting between over 60 leading business and political figures from Hong Kong and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday as the Communist Party and allies in Hong Kong look to cement their reform process.
“I believe there are still people who have not been well informed of the situation, or they have pretended to not know about it,” Chan Wing-kee, a Standing Committee member, told the state-run China Daily before the delegation’s arrival. “I hope the central leadership could make a clearer statement on political reform as it addresses the delegation.”
It includes people expected to make up Beijing’s hand-picked nomination committee ahead of reforms in 2017, including leading business figures who have opposed disruption to Hong Kong’s economy caused by frequent protests.
Although many foreign and local companies have called for a return to stability, opposing the anti-Beijing protests, a recent survey by the Chinese University in Hong Kong found that more than 20 percent of residents are considering leaving the city over concerns for its political future.