Hong Kong: Hong Kong's embattled leader stood defiant tonight, rejecting demands to resign and sending his deputy to talk to pro-democracy demonstrators, as huge crowds rallied outside his government's besieged headquarters for a fifth consecutive night.
Huge throngs who have shut down central areas of the city with mass sit-ins all week had set a midnight deadline for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to step down and for Beijing guarantee the former British colony full democracy.
But moments before the deadline was set to expire, Leung appeared before reporters and flatly rejected those demands.
“I will not resign because I have to continue with the work for elections,” he said, referring to upcoming polls in 2017 which are at the centre of the ongoing confrontation between demonstrators and the Beijing-backed city authorities.
But in a concession he said he would appoint Chief Secretary Carrie Lam to lead discussions with the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the multiple groups involved in the ongoing demonstrations.
In August, China said Hong Kongers would be able to vote for their next leader but only two or three candidates vetted by a loyalist committee would be allowed to stand.
Demonstrators have dismissed the decision as “fake democracy” and have vowed to keep people on the streets for as long as it takes.
Loud boos and jeers echoed across the main protest site as Leung's words were relayed through a series of loudspeakers, AFP reporters said.
“I don't think talking to Carrie Lam will solve the problem,” student protester Karen Man told AFP. “We asked to talk to CY, not his deputy. We're peaceful and he has nothing to be afraid of.”
Protesters had vowed to escalate their occupation of major sites if their demands were not met but some said they would wait for more details before acting.
“We'll hear what the government has to say first and then plan our next steps,” protester Stephen Chan told AFP shortly after Leung spoke. “People won't attack the police without provocation. I believe in the Hong Kong people's spirit.”
But tensions remained high around the besieged government headquarters, after police in the late afternoon were seen transporting tear gas and rubber bullet rounds, causing widespread alarm and anger within the crowds.
Pictures shared widely on social media and television showed one barrel carried by police with the words “Round, 38mm rubber baton multi” written on it.