Hong Kong protests: Officials hope to wait out; defiant protesters threaten to step up action

Pro-democracy protesters raise their umbrellas on cue as part of the demonstrations currently blocking central Hong Kong that have been dubbed the "umbrella revolution", on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Pro-democracy protesters raise their umbrellas on cue as part of the demonstrations currently blocking central Hong Kong that have been dubbed the "umbrella revolution", on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A protestor listens to a pro-democracy speech in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A protestor listens to a pro-democracy speech in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A pro-democracy protestor stands next to an umbrella in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A pro-democracy protestor stands next to an umbrella in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A message of support from the pro-democracy movement is projected onto the government offices in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A message of support from the pro-democracy movement is projected onto the government offices in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Protesters turn on their mobile phone flashlights as they block an area outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters turn on their mobile phone flashlights as they block an area outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Pro-democracy protestors gather in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Pro-democracy protestors gather in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Notes posted by pro-democracy movement supporters are displayed in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Notes posted by pro-democracy movement supporters are displayed in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Pro-democary protesters gather in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Pro-democary protesters gather in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Notes written by pro-democary supporters are displayed on the ground in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Notes written by pro-democary supporters are displayed on the ground in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Protesters read a newspaper close to an improvised library in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014, during a gathering of pro-democracy protestors. -- PHOTO: AFP
Protesters read a newspaper close to an improvised library in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014, during a gathering of pro-democracy protestors. -- PHOTO: AFP
A man holds a microphone as protesters turn on their mobile phone flashlights outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A man holds a microphone as protesters turn on their mobile phone flashlights outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters turn on their mobile phone flashlights as they block an area outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters turn on their mobile phone flashlights as they block an area outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG - Student protesters occupying the streets of Hong Kong are threatening to escalate their actions - including by laying siege to government offices, in response to a tacit government strategy to wait them out.

The students are giving chief executive Leung Chun Ying until the end of Thursday to step down, before people are mobilised to occupy government buildings, ruling out holding talks with him.

"We can talk to anyone in the government except him... resign for the sake of Hong Kong," Chan Kin-man, co-founder of the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement which co-organised the demonstrations, told reporters earlier in the day.

But the protesters will remain peaceful and will not take over places such as fire stations and hospitals, said the vice-secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students Lester Shum.

"I believe the government is trying to buy more time," he told the media. "They want to use tactics such as sending some people to create chaos so that they would have a good reason to disperse the crowd."

Upping the ante thus appears to be a counter to the government's strategy to wait out the protesters, until fatigue or societal backlash force them to retreat from the roads that they have occupied the past four days.

Since Sunday, when the police had used tear gas on protesters in a heavily criticised move, the government has visibly dialed down police presence, while giving protesters free rein to organise themselves - including setting up a new sit-in site in Tsim Sha Tsui on Wednesday.

Mr Leung had also sought to underline the social and economic costs of the movement. Police officials have recounted how the road blockades were impeding emergency services for those requiring medical help.

The protests are the worst in Hong Kong since China resumed its rule of the former British colony in 1997. They pose one of the biggest political challenges for Beijing since it violently crushed pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

China rules Hong Kong under a "one country, two systems" formula that accords it some autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, with universal suffrage an eventual goal. However, protesters reacted angrily when Beijing decreed on Aug. 31 that it would vet candidates wishing to run for Hong Kong's leadership.

On Wednesday, Beijing's top representative in Hong Kong Zhang Xiaoming affected a dismissive air when asked about the protests, a seeming indication that the central government could be keeping a hands-off attitude - for now. "The sun still rises," he said.

But the rhetoric from Chinese state media Wednesday was sharper, with official mouthpiece People's Daily terming Occupy Central's actions as "confrontation".

"A minority insist on opposing the rule of law and provoking incidents. They will have to face the consequences," it wrote.

Such warnings had little effect in Hong Kong Wednesday where crowds swelled even larger on National Day, a public holiday. The mood at Causeway Bay was even festive, with newly-weds taking wedding photographs amid the protesters.

Protesters have dug in, setting up supply stations with water bottles, fruit, disposable raincoats, towels, goggles, face masks, crackers and tents.

Over at the main protest site at Admiralty, gigantic images of encouraging messages from around the world were projected on the wall facade of the government headquarters. "The whole world is learning true democracy from you," goes one, from Japan.

Mainland Chinese visiting Hong Kong had differing views on the demonstrations. "For the first time in my life, I feel close to politics,"said a 29-year-old tourist from Beijing surnamed Yu told Reuters. "I believe something like this will happen in China one day."

In Taipei's Liberty Square, some 2,000 mostly young protesters, many wearing symbolic yellow ribbons in a show of solidarity, encouraged Hong Kong people to fight for democracy. In the former Portuguese colony of Macau, which like Hong Kong is now a Chinese "special administrative region", a similar movement has called for changes in the way the gambling hub chooses its leader.

xueying@sph.com.sg

(Inputs from Reuters, AFP)