Hong Kong protests: Government, protesters working towards formal talks this week

Shops near the main protest site in Mong Kok feeling the strain of the protests thus far as business is badly affected. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Shops near the main protest site in Mong Kok feeling the strain of the protests thus far as business is badly affected. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A protester holds a Captain America shield and wears army fatigues as he walks on the streets in Mong Kok in Kowloon on Oct 6, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A protester holds a Captain America shield and wears army fatigues as he walks on the streets in Mong Kok in Kowloon on Oct 6, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
An man opposed to the protests taunts the demonstrators at Mong Kok in Kowloon on Oct 6, 2014. Although the mood is generally calm, there are still little pockets of arguments happening in Mong Kok. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
An man opposed to the protests taunts the demonstrators at Mong Kok in Kowloon on Oct 6, 2014. Although the mood is generally calm, there are still little pockets of arguments happening in Mong Kok. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A man opposed to the protests taunts the demonstrators at Mong Kok in Kowloon on Oct 6, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A man opposed to the protests taunts the demonstrators at Mong Kok in Kowloon on Oct 6, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Medical student Carla Chau volunteers her medical skills in Mong Kok in Kowloon on Oct 6, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Medical student Carla Chau volunteers her medical skills in Mong Kok in Kowloon on Oct 6, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Medical student Carla Chau volunteers her medical skills in Mong Kok in Kowloon on Oct 6, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Medical student Carla Chau volunteers her medical skills in Mong Kok in Kowloon on Oct 6, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Office workers trying to get to work amid the diversions due to blockades by the protesters at the Central Government offices in Admiralty district in Hong Kong on Oct 6, 2014. -- PHOTO: ST KUA CHEE SIONG
Office workers trying to get to work amid the diversions due to blockades by the protesters at the Central Government offices in Admiralty district in Hong Kong on Oct 6, 2014. -- PHOTO: ST KUA CHEE SIONG
The Broadway Electronics store near the main protest site in Mong Kok feeling the strain of the protests thus far as business is badly affected. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
The Broadway Electronics store near the main protest site in Mong Kok feeling the strain of the protests thus far as business is badly affected. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A protest site in Mong Kok, where numbers have dwindled over the last few days. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A protest site in Mong Kok, where numbers have dwindled over the last few days. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Pro democracy protester offers cold tea to other protesters in Hong Kong's Mong Kok district on Oct 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Pro democracy protester offers cold tea to other protesters in Hong Kong's Mong Kok district on Oct 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Traffic lights are not in operation as pro-democracy protesters block Nathan Road at Hong Kong's Mong Kok shopping district on Oct 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Traffic lights are not in operation as pro-democracy protesters block Nathan Road at Hong Kong's Mong Kok shopping district on Oct 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

PROTEST organisers and the government are inching towards reaching a detente, having agreed to hold formal talks on political reform within this week.

They also agreed on three principles to guide the talks - that there will be more than one dialogue, that they will be held on the basis of "an equal relationship and mutual respect" and that "the Government will implement... any consensus raised during the meeting", said Mr Lau Kong Wah, undersecretary for constitutional and mainland affairs.

These principles were agreed upon during a preparatory round of talks between the protest organisers and government officials late on Monday night.

It was the second round of preliminary talks, and a third one will be held on Tuesday night to sort out a time and place for the planned talks with Hong Kong's number two, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam.

There will be more sticky issues to sort out.

Mr Lau said late on Monday night that the Aug 31 rules laid out by China's legislature, the National People's Council Standing Committee, on Hong Kong's chief executive election have to be followed for any electoral reform to be legal.

But Mr Lester Shum, deputy secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said such an insistence on the framework could be an "obstacle" to constructive dialogue.

And until there is substantive breakthrough, said the protest organisers, they will not retreat from the protest sites in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay.

This is despite flagging energy among the protesters and increasing irritation of the public about disruptions to their daily routines.

The protest movement is in its 10th day on Tuesday. Crowds at the protest sites on Monday night dwindled to a record low, and numbered just in the low hundreds on Tuesday morning.

Protesters have made a concession in opening passageways for government employees to reach their offices in Admiralty. Secondary schools in Wan Chai, Central and Sheung Wan also reopened on Monday, and so did primary schools.

There are also traffic snarls on Hong Kong Island as commuters avoid the blocked roads in travelling east-west.

Chief executive Leung Chun Ying, in a televised message, reiterated his call for the protesters to leave.

"I hope the protesters gathering on the roads, especially students and young people, could think this over: while fighting for a better future and democracy for Hong Kong by way of civil disobedience, should you also consider the prolonged disruption caused to the general public?"

Some die-hards, however, say they will remain.

"If we go home, no one will remain," Ms Chiara Lam, a 23-year-old translation studies student, said of the Admiralty protest.

"We hope that Hong Kongers will understand that we are fighting for their children's future. We are making the sacrifice in terms of our time, and hopefully they can make the sacrifices in terms of the inconveniences."

xueying@sph.com.sg