Hong Kong protests: Talks accepted amid protest stand-off

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Media captionBabita Sharma reports from a rally outside Hong Kong's government offices

Protesters in Hong Kong have accepted an offer of talks with the government after a week of unrest.

Chief Executive CY Leung offered the talks with his deputy late on Thursday but rejected calls to resign.

The protesters, angry at China's plan to vet election candidates, have been occupying parts of the city since the weekend, though numbers have fallen.

Beijing has thrown its full support behind Mr Leung, calling the protests illegal and "doomed to fail".

In two districts on Friday, scuffles broke out between demonstrators and residents angered by a week of disruption.

In Mong Kok, a commercial district across the water from Hong Kong Island, police linked arms in a line to separate the opposing groups.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Locals in some districts have been trying to remove protesters' barricades

Similar, though smaller, disturbances were reported from the Causeway Bay area on Hong Kong Island.

Government offices in the main protest-hit area have been closed, with the authorities urging staff to work from home because roads were blocked.

Though the protests were significantly smaller on Friday, some groups remained on the streets. There were some scuffles as police tried to keep protesters back from the buildings.

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Media captionChief Executive CY Leung: "I want to continue my task of ensuring the one-person one-vote election can take place in Hong Kong"

At a news conference, police heavily criticised protesters for obstructing traffic and blocking supplies reaching government offices.

"It is unreasonable, unnecessary and severely affecting emergency services and the life of the public," police spokesman Hui Chun-tak said, while adding that the police would exercise impartiality and "greatest tolerance".

Analysis: Celia Hatton, BBC News, Beijing

China's leaders have issued very few direct comments about the Hong Kong protests since they began . President Xi Jinping has yet to mention the protests directly. In a speech delivered this week, he simply reaffirmed that China would "safeguard Hong Kong's prosperity and stability".

The only regular communications we're receiving from Chinese leaders come from state media - in particular, editorials published in the People's Daily. Those editorials are becoming more unyielding, it seems.

Friday's column says the protests are "doomed to fail" and there is "no room to make concessions". Beijing's decision to select candidates who will stand for chief executive in Hong Kong in 2017 is "unchallengeable".

Beijing is also working hard to quash even the smallest sign the protests might be spreading to the mainland. On Thursday, our BBC team was blocked from attending an artists' gathering in support of the Hong Kong protests. At least five of the event's supporters were detained.

'Serious consequences'

On the issue of talks, the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) said it would have a public meeting with Ms Lam, but insisted that Mr Leung should step down, saying he had "lost his integrity".

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Media caption"The night is awash with anger and fear", reports the BBC's China editor Carrie Gracie in Hong Kong

The Occupy Central movement issued a statement saying it hoped "the talks can provide a turning point in the current political stalemate". It also called for Mr Leung's resignation.

The students had threatened to escalate their protests and occupy government buildings if Mr Leung did not resign by Thursday night.

But hours before the deadline, he said in a news briefing: "I will not resign because I have to continue with the work for elections." He warned that any attempts to occupy buildings would lead to "serious consequences".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Police remain on guard outside government offices on Friday morning
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Protesters have covered the wall of this government building with messages

At the heart of the row is how Hong Kong elects its next leader. In August, Beijing ruled that while Hong Kong residents would have a vote, their choice of candidates would be restricted by a committee.

The protesters say this falls short of the free elections they are seeking.

Writing in the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong's last British governor before the territory was handed back to China in 1997, Chris Patten, said that "open and honest" consultations were the way forward now.

"Dialogue is the only sensible way forward. Hong Kong's citizens are not irresponsible or unreasonable. A decent compromise that allows for elections that people can recognise as fair, not fixed, is surely available."

The US consul general to Hong Kong Clifford Hart said in a Facebook statement that "the common desire for Hong Kong's welfare provides an excellent basis for launching dialogue".

Hong Kong democracy timeline

  • 1997: UK gives Hong Kong back to China under a 1984 agreement giving it "a high degree of autonomy" for 50 years
  • 2004: China says it must approve any changes to Hong Kong's election laws
  • June-July 2014: Pro-democracy activists hold an unofficial referendum on political reform; both sides hold large rallies
  • 31 August 2014: China says it will allow direct elections in 2017 but will pre-approve candidates
  • 22 September 2014: Student groups launch a week-long boycott of classes
  • 28 September 2014: Occupy Central and student protests join forces and take over central Hong Kong
  • 2017: Direct elections for chief executive due to take place
  • 2047: Expiry of current agreements

Q&A: Hong Kong's democracy controversy