HK protest leaders call for cool-off period
PRO-DEMOCRACY protest leaders in Hong Kong have suggested a three-day "cooling-off period" to lower simmering tensions between police and demonstrators.
The calls came as activists again accused the police of using excessive force against protesters after violent clashes over the weekend.
"Those who are sick and tired, please go home for 72 hours to have a cooling-off period," said Ed Chin of Occupy Central, one of the main groups organising the protests, yesterday.
Christian pastor Fung Chi Wood said the police, for their part, should adopt a lighter-handed approach. "Police should promise the public not to use violence for three days, to lower our temperament and anger," he said.
Dozens of police officers with shields and helmets pushed into a crowd gathered at barricades in the Mongkok district early yesterday morning, striking at them repeatedly with batons.
Twenty people were injured in a fourth night of violence after three weeks of largely peaceful pro-democracy rallies and road blockades in three busy districts.
"They hit us without any reason when we were standing behind the roadblock. I was hit by a police stick four or five times. I protected myself with my hands and they hit my body," said Jackie, 30, sitting with his head bandaged and blood on his T-shirt.
"Some people behind me opened their umbrellas and then the police started hitting people. There was no aggressive action on our side."
But the police said the protesters had attempted to charge police cordons by pulling aside barriers and shoving officers. They confirmed that three protesters and an officer were injured.
The police were trying to clear a main thoroughfare, Nathan Road, occupied by demonstrators. They said in a statement yesterday that they had used "minimum force" as protesters "suddenly attempted to charge" their cordon lines.
However, protesters insisted they had done nothing to provoke officers. "We believe police have violated the principle of using minimum force to deal with peaceful demonstration," James Hon, of protest group the League in Defence of Hong Kong's Freedom, told AFP.
Protesters are calling for fully free elections after Beijing insisted that candidates in a 2017 vote for the city's leader must be vetted by a committee expected to be loyal to China.
Hong Kong leader Leung Chun Ying has warned that the Chinese authorities have no intention of backing down.
Hong Kong's government had on Saturday confirmed that it would open talks with student leaders tomorrow. The city's deputy leader, Carrie Lam, told reporters the talks would be focused on constitutional reform, with both sides allowed to bring five members to the meeting.
Finance Secretary John Tsang yesterday said the protests had reached a "critical moment" and urged demonstrators to retreat.
"I was young before and I have taken part in various student movements," he wrote on his blog. "Retreating is not an easy decision. It takes a lot of bravery. I still believe that you can take the courage to make right decisions at this critical moment."