As Chinese authorities and their Hong Kong allies continue to hold firm against the Occupy Central protest movement's call for democracy in the teeming city, leaders of the two-month old protest movement tried an unusual tactic today: "Surrendering" to police who weren't seeking their arrest.
The staged event at a police station not far from the Admiralty area where protests have been held was led by three of the founders of the movement who yesterday called for students to back down on the streets to avoid possible violence.
The three – a good deal older than the high school and university students who have been most visible at protest camps – appeared to think that a fresh bout of publicity would convince the Chinese government to bow to their demands as support for street protests flag.
A flood of symbolic surrenders to the police, the hope seemed to be, will succeed where protests, which have angered many in Hong Kong for disrupting business and risking disorder, have thus far failed, Reuters reports.
Pro-Beijing groups taunted Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming as they entered a police station just two subway stops from the main protest site in Admiralty, next to the Chinese-controlled city's financial center.
The three, accompanied by Cardinal Joseph Zen, 82, former Catholic Bishop of Hong Kong, filled in forms, giving personal information, and were allowed to leave without facing any charges.
"I hope we can show others the meaning of the surrender. We urge the occupation to end soon and more citizens will carry out the basic responsibility of civil disobedience, which is to surrender," said Benny Tai, the most prominent of the Occupy leaders, after he left the police station.
The bit of theater comes amid an apparent rift between older protest supporters and the more fiery high school and college students who have been at the center of street protests that at their height had 100,000 but have since dwindled. While Mr. Tai has said the time for street protests are over, a number of student leaders have vowed to continue.
On Monday, 18-year-old Joshua Wong, a prominent student protest leader, started a hunger strike as he and other young protesters called for demonstrations to go on, CNN reports:
Wong's hunger strike is an attempt to rally a movement which has shown growing signs of fracture.
... Reactions were mixed to Wong's announcement of the hunger strike. "Kid, you're too young. You think (Hong Kong's leader) will give you real universal suffrage because of a hunger strike?" said one commenter.
Other democracy supporters accused Wong of staging the hunger strike as a way of achieving a "glorious retreat" without accomplishing anything.
An online statement issued by Scholarism, acknowledged the hunger strike was a desperate measure. "We are all tired, our hearts are weary; as we face this high wall of a government we are like a weak, frail, egg," it said. "But we are not afraid of people laughing at our dreams; we are afraid of hearing the sounds of our broken dreams in the future, afraid of having no more dreams at all."
Padraic Convery writes for Al Jazeera that while dissatisfaction remains high with Chinese authorities for reneging on a promise to allow democracy in Hong Kong, Hong Kong authorities have skillfully allowed a de-centralized movement to "turn in on itself."
The leadership of the movement, faced with no one to talk to and no one to confront on the streets when they were at the peak of their power, has done precisely that. Even before the renewed police aggression of recent days, the city's three formerly buzzing protest sites had become forlorn reminders of the movement's early promise.
Benny Tai, the charismatic law professor who cofounded the original Occupy Central movement, zipped himself into a tent at the main protest camp near the Hong Kong government complex and refused to talk even to his allies for days following the cancellation of talks between officials and student leaders in early October, claiming he "could not come up with solutions to some problems." He has since returned to teaching.
Others in the front rank of the protests, including university student union leaders Lester Shum and Alex Chow, and Joshua Wong, a teenage firebrand from the vocal school pupils' democracy group Scholarism, have often appeared paralysed by indecision. When in early November, for instance, a pro-Beijing group won widespread media coverage of a petition opposing the occupation movement that claimed the signatures of almost one in every four Hongkongers - allegedly from individuals that included preschool children, tourists and people paid to sign multiple times - it was more than the democracy camp's leaders could do even to challenge its rigour.
The New York Times reports that it isn't clear where, if anywhere, the protests will go from here, or who will lead them.
The Occupy Central leaders who turned themselves in Wednesday have had little visible influence over the street occupations that have continued for more than two months, sustained by grass-roots networks of protesters.
But Occupy Central was the campaign that initially promoted the idea of civil disobedience occupations on the streets of Hong Kong, and the three co-founders, especially Mr. Tai, remain influential voices in the city’s pro-democracy movement. Mr. Tai endorsed a student sit-in at the city government offices in late September that erupted into street occupations after the police used tear gas and pepper spray in a failed attempt to break up the protesters. At a news conference on Tuesday, however, the Occupy Central founders said the time had come to end the protest camps.
Public opinion polls have found that growing numbers of Hong Kong residents believe the street occupations have gone on too long, a sentiment that seemed likely to have deepened after student protesters instigated a failed siege of the government headquarters on Sunday. That led to a night of seesaw struggles, ending with the police pushing back the crowds and then reducing the area controlled by the protesters.