HONG KONG ― Hong Kong’s government on Thursday canceled talks with student leaders of a pro-democracy protest that has blocked streets in the city for nearly two weeks, with a senior official saying the discussions were unlikely to be constructive.
The talks, which had been scheduled for Friday, will not go ahead because they have been “seriously undermined” by remarks from the student leaders, said the official, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam.
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 have dubbed “Umbrella Square.” Umbrellas used to combat police pepper spray and tear gas have become a symbol of the nonviolent movement.
“I truly regret that we will not be able to have a meeting tomorrow which will produce any constructive outcome,” Lam said.
Student leaders had vowed not to retreat even as the number of protesters occupying the main thoroughfare and streets in two busy shopping districts elsewhere in the former British colony has dwindled sharply this week.
Pro-democracy lawmakers, who so far haven’t played much of a role in the civil disobedience campaign, said they would join in by blocking all government funding requests in the legislature except for the most urgent.
Protesters have occupied the streets since Sept. 28, when police used tear gas in a failed attempt to disperse tens of thousands of people in front of the government complex.
The protesters are demanding the government of the specially administered Chinese region abandon plans to allow Beijing to screen candidates for the city’s inaugural elections for its leader in 2017. They also want current leader Leung Chun-ying, who was approved for the job by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing elites, to resign.
Both sides accused each other of being insincere, a sign of the frustrations over the vast differences between the government’s position and that of the students. The government was unlikely to give in to the students’ demands and instead had proposed focusing the talks on legal technicalities. That angered student leaders and raised fears that the government was using it as a delaying tactic to dodge their demands.
Hong Kong students have been asking for dialogue with the government since they walked out of classes on Sept. 22 to press their demands, said Alex Chow of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of three groups coordinating the protests.
“During those days we gave our sweat and our blood, we faced tear gas and some of us were arrested and we may face imprisonment in the future,” Chow said. “Even now, we are open to talks with the government anytime. They’ve shown they have no sincerity to shoulder their responsibility of facing the concerns of the Hong Kong people.”
The government’s announcement Thursday was greeted with little more than sneers by protesters.
“Two days ago they wanted to talk, now they won’t talk,” said Candice Heung, a university administrator who often joins the protest after work and believes the government is dragging out the confrontation. “This doesn’t matter at all.”
The reality, she said, is the government has no interest in sitting down with the students.
“They don’t want to talk,” she said.
Associated Press writers Tim Sullivan and Joanna Chiu contributed to this report.