Protesters in Hong Kong who say China has reneged its promise for free and fair elections in 2017 blocked major roads in the center of town, refusing to back down after police this weekend fired tear gas and baton charged peaceful demonstrators.
Hong Kong authorities withdrew riot police today according to the BBC. But roads remained blocked and some banks and schools were closed.
Tens of thousands of people confronted riot police over the weekend, with many using umbrellas to block tear gas. Some media outlets have dubbed the protests the “Umbrella Revolution.”
Police said they used tear gas 87 times at nine different locations on Sunday, Agence France-Press reports. Seventy-eight people were arrested on Sunday and 26 people were taken to hospitals.
Student groups launched boycotts of classes on Sept. 22 to protest the Chinese government’s decision to restrict elections in Hong Kong. As the Associated Press reported, Beijing decided last month that the Chinese government would restrict candidates for the “first-ever elections for Hong Kong’s leader” in 2017 instead of allowing open nominations.
The standoff represents the worst unrest Hong Kong has seen since China gained rule over the area in 1997 from Britain under a “one country, two systems” agreement.
The Chinese government has warned against foreign intervention with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying saying,
We are resolutely opposed to any foreign country using any method to interfere in China's internal affairs. We are also resolutely opposed to any country, attempting in any way to support such illegal activities like ‘Occupy Central.’ We are fully confident in the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong, because I believe this is in keeping with the interests of all the people in China, the region and the world.
Reuters reported a drop in Chinese tourists planning on coming to Hong Kong with protests expected to again escalate on China’s National Day holiday on Oct. 1.
As the BBC’s Celia Hatton reports from Beijing, the protests have placed Chinese government officials in an uncomfortable position as they try to clamp down on potential political challenges while avoiding memories of Tiananmen Square in 1989.
But if the protesters hold their ground, how far will Beijing allow events to spiral before getting directly involved?
The sight of Chinese troops confronting Hong Kong protestors, particularly students, would be a disaster for Beijing, leading to an international outcry. Beijing could revisit the dark days following its violent response to 1989’s Tiananmen protests.
So, for now, Chinese leaders face an unusual set of political constraints. The Communist Party is unwilling to cede political control to the people of Hong Kong by refusing to allow direct elections in 2017. As a result, the party is putting its faith in the abilities of the Hong Kong police to deal with the fall-out from that decision.
The photo-sharing service Instagram has been blocked in mainland China as has the search term “Occupy Central” on Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo, the New York Times reports.
Hong Kong’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying told the public that rumors about the Chinese army intervening were unfounded.
“I hope the public will keep calm. Don't be misled by the rumors. Police will strive to maintain social order, including ensuring smooth traffic and ensuring the public safety,” he said.