Hong Kong protests: Student leaders agree to talk to government

HONG KONG - Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) leaders agreed Thursday to take up the government on its offer to hold talks with them sometime next week, saying they want to reflect requests of the people to the authorities.

Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying announced earlier in the day that the government hoped to meet students following the breakdown of talks last week.

HKFS deputy secretary-general Lester Shum said his group "would not be afraid of dialogue," adding that the protesters would like to see how the government will try to persuade them, according to reports in the Hong Kong media.

Mr Leung had revealed earlier on Thursday that the government has in the last few days been reaching out to HKFS through several "middlemen", who he did not name. He had also said that besides the dialogue, the government is also working to restore public order and traffic flow across Hong Kong, and to start the second round of public consultation on electoral reform in the fourth quarter of this year.

HKFS leader Alex Chow was, however, quoted by the South China Morning Post as doubting the sincerity of Mr Leung who he said was "offering to talk but at the same time ordering police to clear streets violently".

Thousands of Hong Kongers have taken to the streets since Sept 28, after the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee in China decided on Aug 31 that candidates for 2017 elections have to be screened by a nominating committee, which will likely pick only pro-Beijing candidates. 

The election is meant to be the first time that all Hong Kongers get to vote for their leader,  but protesters say having Beijing vet the nominations is not the kind of universal suffrage that they want.

Mr Leung said requesting a reversal of the NPC's decision, or the changing of Hong Kong's Basic Law, is "not practical".

Analysts say there is only a slim chance of a compromise between the two parties.

chengwee@sph.com.sg