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    Oct 27, 2014

    HK protesters scrap referendum


    HONG KONG'S pro-democracy protesters were forced to suspend a planned vote on their next steps yesterday - hours before it was due to begin - due to differing opinions over how to move their month-long campaign forward.

    Four weeks after tens of thousands of Hong Kongers took to the streets demanding free leadership elections for the semi-autonomous Chinese city, protesters remain stubbornly encamped across several major road junctions.

    But the crowds have shrunk and the protest leaders have struggled to decide how to keep up the momentum.

    With Beijing insisting that candidates for the 2017 vote must be vetted by a loyalist committee - an arrangement the protesters deride as "fake democracy" - there is no end to the stalemate in sight.

    The vote by mobile phone had been set to take place yesterday and today to gauge protesters' opinions on what their next moves should be.

    But, just hours before voting was due to begin, protest leaders told reporters they had been forced to postpone it because of differing views on how it should be carried out.

    "We decided to adjourn the vote... but it doesn't mean the movement has stopped," said Benny Tai of prominent pro-democracy group Occupy Central, adding that it was a "very difficult decision to make".

    Organisers refused to be drawn on the nature of the disagreements, but student leader Alex Chow said there had been concerns over how to verify that only protesters took part in the vote, amid worries that opponents might try to hijack the process.

    The vote had been due to take place at the three protest camps that have sprung up across Hong Kong. It would have asked demonstrators how to respond to conciliatory measures offered by Hong Kong's government.

    With frustration growing among residents after a month of traffic mayhem caused by the protests, and sporadic clashes breaking out between police and opponents, the pro-democracy movement is under growing pressure to decide where it is headed next.

    But protest leaders yesterday offered few clues on how they would proceed now - refusing to say even whether the vote would be rescheduled.

    "At this stage of the movement, every one of us is exploring which way to go," Mr Tai told reporters. "We need to have more discussions," he said, adding that these would include whether to hold a broader referendum on democratic reforms.

    Protest leaders said a retreat was the only option that could be ruled out, with student activist Joshua Wong saying it was "absolutely not the time" to quit the streets.