Hong Kong Officials Call Off Talks With Student Activists

By Scott Neuman NPR

Hong Kong government officials have canceled talks with student leaders, saying it is “impossible to have a constructive dialogue” because the pro-democracy activists had called for stepped-up protests if officials failed to make concessions.

Although mass demonstrations that shut down parts of Hong Kong last week have dwindled, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam reiterated her government’s demand that the protests must end.

“The dialogue cannot be deployed as an excuse to incite more people to join the protest,” Lam said. “The illegal occupation activists must stop.”

Lam said the talks could not go ahead as planned because they’d been “seriously undermined” by the student activists.

The students have called for Beijing to fulfill a promise to have an open election to replace Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017. The commitment was outlined in the agreement between London and Beijing on the handover of the longtime British colony 17 years ago. They had also demanded that the territory’s current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, step down.

The Associated Press notes: “Her announcement came hours after student leaders called for supporters to redouble their efforts to occupy the main protest zone — a highway outside government headquarters that they’re now dubbing ‘Umbrella Square.’ ”

While skeptical of real progress, student activists cited the prospect of talks with the government as one of the reasons they’d toned down their protests.

Today, some expressed frustration and anger.

“Two days ago they wanted to talk, now they won’t talk,” Candice Heung, a university administrator who has participated in the protests, tells AP.

Student leader Alex Chow called on people to continue to occupy the city to call for greater freedoms, according to Reuters.

Earlier, the talks had been agreed to but then quickly called off by the students after violence perpetrated by people the pro-democracy forces said were government-sponsored thugs.

Also on Thursday, Hong Kong’s Department of Justice gave permission to the prosecution office to begin an investigation into Chief Executive Leung for a $6.4 million payment he got from an Australian engineering company while he was in office, Reuters reports.

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