Hong Kong students take democracy protest to leader's home

Benjamin Haas
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Students march to the Government House in Hong Kong on September 25, 2014 to push the Chief Executive to acknowledge their grievances

Students march to the Government House in Hong Kong on September 25, 2014 to push the Chief Executive to acknowledge their grievances (AFP Photo/Xaume Olleros)

Hong Kong (AFP) - More than 2,000 people marched on the residence of Hong Kong's leader Thursday night as students escalated their protest action against China's refusal to grant the city full democracy.

Student groups are spearheading a civil disobedience campaign along with democracy activists in protest at Beijing's decision to vet who can stand for chief executive -- the southern Chinese city's top post -- at the next election.

University students began a week-long class boycott on Monday, rallying a crowd that organisers said was 13,000-strong on a campus in the north of the city and breathing new life into a movement left stunned by Beijing's hardline stance.

On Tuesday the students moved their protest to a public park outside the main legislative complex of the semi-autonomous Chinese city, briefly mobbing current Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying as he exited the building.

Protesters set off from Tamar park Thursday night as they made their way toward Leung's official government residence in the Central region of Hong Kong, despite being initially blocked by police, who held up signs warning that those who continued could be prosecuted.

The uphill march, which lasted over three hours, was halted multiple times by police, angering some protesters who screamed "let us pass" at officers. Organisers had said they did not seek permission for the rally.

Chants calling for Leung to step down were repeated, while a large cutout of his face with vampire fangs led the procession.

- Protesting with paper planes -

Some protesters wrote messages calling for Leung to come out on to white sheets of paper, which they folded into paper airplanes and tossed over the gate of government house. Others sat on the road running past the house, blocking traffic.

Organisers claimed around 4,000 took part but an AFP reporter at the scene estimated the figure was over 2,000 though numbers began to dwindle down to around 500 in the early hours of Friday morning.

Some students spent the night camped outside Leung's residence, threatening to stop him going to work in the morning, local broadcaster RTHK reported.

But many protesters doubted the chief executive would come out to talk with them.

"Leung is scared of us, he's scared of the people," 18-year-old high school student Lau Tak-wai told AFP while wearing his white school uniform.

"He knows the Chinese government's decision is wrong, but he can't do anything because Beijing controls him," Lau continued.

Most participants said they simply wanted Leung to acknowledge them.

"It's not that much to ask our leader to hear our grievances, to acknowledge that we have legitimate concerns," 23-year-old Shue Yan University sociology student Bethany Yiu told AFP.

"I need to fight for democracy now so the next generation can have a better life," economics major at Shue Yan, Saxon Lam, said.

Both Yiu and Lam were arrested this year along with more than 500 others during a July student-led sit-in.

Students said Tuesday that protest action would be escalated if Leung refused to speak with them within 48 hours.

A response by the government released early Thursday said they "understood and respected" the students' concern and requests for democracy.

- 'Manual of disobedience' -

Occupy Central, a prominent grassroots pro-democracy group, has vowed to take over Central if its demand that Hong Kongers be allowed to nominate candidates for leader is not met.

"Occupy Central participants must strictly follow the principle of non-violence if we are to gain the understanding and support of the public," Occupy's "Manual of Disobedience" released Thursday said.

The manual told protesters to not bring any items that could be used as a weapon and to form a human chain by linking arms when faced with police force.

It also told Occupy participants to bring enough food for two to three days, along with protective goggles.

"If there are a few thousand to ten thousand people sitting on the road and with four police officers needed to lift one person, it will take a considerable amount of time," Occupy co-founder Chan Kin-man told reporters Thursday.

Last month China said Hong Kongers would be allowed to vote for their leader for the first time in the 2017 election, but that only two or three candidates approved by a pro-Beijing committee could stand.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a 'one country, two systems' agreement which allows it civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including free speech and the right to protest.