Hong Kong protests: Growing discontent at Occupy Central movement

Hong Kong Chief Executuve Leung Chun Ying attending a forum for chief executive candidates in Hong Kong in this March 12, 2012 file photo. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
Hong Kong Chief Executuve Leung Chun Ying attending a forum for chief executive candidates in Hong Kong in this March 12, 2012 file photo. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
Anti Occupy "Blue Ribbon" group members shout slogans as they take part in a protest march towards an area near the Occupy camp in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Oct 12, 2014. As the Occupy Central movement enters its third week with no e
Anti Occupy "Blue Ribbon" group members shout slogans as they take part in a protest march towards an area near the Occupy camp in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Oct 12, 2014. As the Occupy Central movement enters its third week with no end to the impasse in sight, an increasing number of people began to voice their unhappiness over the prolonged protests. -- PHOTO: AFP

AS THE Occupy Central movement enters its third week with no end to the impasse in sight, an increasing number of people began to voice their unhappiness over the prolonged protests.

Some 30 members of a local construction union marched to the rallying site in Admiralty on Sunday afternoon, challenging the students to end their protests, the South China Morning Post reported.

It came as the pro-government Blue Ribbon Movement threatened to surround the protest sites unless authorities dismantle them by Tuesday night.

"We respect your demands because many of our children are among the protesters," says Mr Chow Luen Kiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union.

"But it's been 15 days. You've done enough and the whole world has known your demands. So please leave and let your parents resume work so they can raise you." Mr Chow said some 4,000 construction workers' jobs had been affected by traffic blockades.

"Democracy is very important but people's livelihoods are also very important," said Mr Chan Tak Keung, one of a group of angry taxi drivers who shouted at the students in Admiralty on Sunday.

The latest development came as Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying again ruled out resigning, saying that this "will not solve the problem".

He also indicated that a return to the table for talks with the protest organisers is not under consideration, given that they want Beijing to rescind its strict rules on Hong Kong's chief executive election, and to introduce public nomination - the right for the people to choose the candidates who can run in the race. Acceding to these demands, he said, is "impossible".

The embattled chief executive was speaking in an interview broadcast on Sunday morning on local station TVB, the first lengthy interview he has done since the crisis erupted on Sept 28.

Asked if the government will take the action of clearing out the protest sites in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay by force, he said that it will continue to persuade the protesters to leave voluntarily.

If action is required, the police will use minimal force without hurting the students and other young protesters, he said.

Further indicating that the government will likely continue to take a hands-off approach, he added that he is confident that the protests "cannot go on for a long time", pointing to its organic nature and the lack of leadership within the movement.

The number of protesters turning up at the sit-ins has dwindled amid growing public unhappiness with disruptions especially to the traffic.

But adding an element of unpredictability, protest organisers have also warned that they may escalate their actions including by blockading government buildings, if the government refuses to meet them for talks on political reform.

The government unexpectedly called off talks with students, originally scheduled last Friday, after the protesters called on more people to gather to put pressure on the government to agree to their demands.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam on Saturday expressed "disappointment and helplessness" over the development. In the interview, Mr Leung describes the crisis as a "mass movement that has spiralled out of control", but stressed that it is "not a revolution".

He admitted that there is "a degree of difficulty in dealing with it". "While the government has a responsibility to enforce the law, the circumstances are unique and because we care for and love our students, we had been most tolerant in dealing with the situation," he argues.

Mr Leung's comments are likely to be contested by critics who point to the police's early actions, including the use of tear gas on Sept 28, to disperse mostly peaceful protesters. On that fateful decision that almost single-handedly propelled more outraged Hong Kongers onto the streets, Mr Leung said that it was one taken by the police commander on the ground. Asked if he had a role in stopping the use of tear gas after the public backlash, he said: "We should not interfere in the decision-making process of the police - this is not a political decision but one taken by the police."

Mr Leung's interview also touched on accusations of financial impropriety and transparency issues, after revelations last week that he had accepted HK$50 million (S$8.23 million) in fees from Australian company UGL while in office the past two years. The payment was part of a contract both sides had signed in return for Mr Leung - a former director of property services firm DTZ that UGL acquired - promising not to join or set up a rival firm. Mr Leung was also committed to acting as a "referee and adviser" to UGL "from time to time".

Mr Leung responded by saying he did not feel he had done anything morally or legally wrong. He also said that he had not rendered any services to UGL since becoming chief executive on July 1, 2012.

xueying@sph.com.sg