Hong Kong cancels student talks. Will more protests follow?

The government of Hong Kong canceled meetings scheduled Friday with student leaders, creating the possibility of renewed protests.

Kin Cheung/AP
A protester holds an umbrella during a performance on a main road in the occupied areas outside government headquarters in Hong Kong on Thursday.

The Hong Kong government called off talks with students on Thursday, a decision that threatens to reignite waning street protests.

The government said it cancelled because the dialogue had been “seriously undermined” by an earlier call from student leaders’ for continued protests if officials failed to make concessions, the Associated Press reports. Its announcement comes a day before the talks were scheduled to take place. 

"The dialogue cannot be deployed as an excuse to incite more people to join the protest," said Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, according to the BBC. "The illegal occupation activists must stop."

The number of protesters blocking main roads around the government complex in Hong Kong has largely subsided this week, following an agreement on Tuesday between student leaders and government officials to meet. Barricades and several dozen protesters remained scattered outside government buildings on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reports, far fewer than the thousands who took to the streets last week.

But student leaders were quick to seek to galvanize protest-weary supporters. The Wall Street Journal reports that they hope to bring them back out on Friday:

Student leaders remained defiant, calling on supporters to return to the streets in droves for a large rally on Friday and to bolster their defense of barriers. Despite dwindling crowds in recent days, the streets remain barricaded in three key areas of the city. The students also joined forces with pro-democracy lawmakers, who promised to extend the protest by blocking legislation in the city’s Legislative Council.

An open race for Hong Kong's first election in 2017 is the top demand of the student protesters and their political allies. They’ve called on the Hong Kong government to abandon plans for a nominating committee that will vet candidates to ensure they're pro-Beijing.

The government has so far refused to change course, claiming that the proposal violates Hong Kong law and the guidelines for the election set by China in August.

In addition to vowing continued protests, the students called for the impeachment of Leung Chun-ying, the city’s chief executive, after learning that he had accepted a $6.4 million payment from an Australian company and failed to disclose it, the New York Times reports. 

It remains uncertain whether the wide gulf separating the student protesters and their government counterparts can be overcome. But many students are holding out hope for the possibility of change.

"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," Alex Chow of the Hong Kong Federation of Students told the AP.  "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."

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