Hong Kong's Occupy Central founders to turn themselves in to police, urge protesters to retreat

Pro-democracy activist Benny Tai (centre) attends a press conference with fellow activists Chan Kin-man (left) and Chu Yiu-ming (right) in Hong Kong on Dec 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Pro-democracy activist Benny Tai (centre) attends a press conference with fellow activists Chan Kin-man (left) and Chu Yiu-ming (right) in Hong Kong on Dec 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - The founders of Hong Kong's 'Occupy' pro-democracy movement - Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man, and Chu Yiu-ming - on Tuesday asked student protesters to retreat, saying that it's time for them to 'recuperate and build up strength'.

"For the sake of the safety of occupiers, we urge the students to retreat and take spirit of #umhk (Umbrella Movement Hong Kong) into the community," Tai, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, said at a press conference, according to a tweet from the Twitter account of the Occupy Central with Peace and Love (OCPL).

The three said they would surrender themselves to police at 3pm on Wednesday to take responsibility for creating the Occupy campaign which has become Hong Kong's largest civic disobedience movement, South China Morning Post reported.

"The students have worked tirelessly for #umhk for the past 2 months,we urge them to recuperate and build up strength for the fight," said Chu according to OCPL. 

Tai had mooted last year the idea of mobilising 10,000 people to block roads in the Hong Kong's financial district of Central if the city's administration and the central government in Beijing did not provide the people with a "genuine" choice in the 2017 chief executive election.

Tai pledged then to keep the campaign away from residential districts to avoid damaging people's livelihoods.

But for the past two months, thousands of mostly-student supporters of the campaign have camped out at sites in Admiralty in Central as well as the working class estate of Mong Kok, after a massive demonstration for full democracy in late September descended into confrontation with the police. The umbrella, which the protesters used to defend themselves against the police, has become a symbol of their civic disobedience campaign for universal suffrage.

Clashes between protesters and police broke out again on Sunday night and overnight Monday, after the protesters tried to surround the government headquarters as they staged a fresh rally that attracted thousands of supporters.

"Surrender is not an act of cowardice, it is courage to bear responsibility, is not failure but denunciation of heartless government," the three OCPL organisers said.

OCPL has been sidelined in the movement by two student groups, Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism, in the campaign. Scholarism leader Joshua Wong and two other students have launched a hunger strike late on Monday to force the government, who has indicated it would not budge on Beijing's formula of limited democracy for Hong Kong's Chief Executive election, into further negotiations.

Said Benny Tai on Tuesday: "The form of civil disobedience has changed from what we envisaged but confident most protesters can maintain peaceful non-violence.

"We don't know what will happen after we hand ourselves in, whether detained or released, but we are prepared for the consequences."

Referring to Beijing's model for governing Hong Kong, Chan said: "If we were naive it was that we believed in One Country, Two Systems. But (we) can't say movement has failed. It's a long struggle."