HONG KONG — Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong faced one of their biggest challenges to date Friday as leaders called for supporters to show up in force after negotiations with the Beijing-backed government broke down.
Student leaders, including 17-year-old Joshua Wong, have several times summoned protesters to occupy “every inch of the streets” of its main protest zone in the area known as the Admiralty.
The attempted show of strength came after the collapse of what were supposed to be the first formal sit-down between the two sides Friday. The two main student groups — the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism, led and founded by Wong — have pleaded for protesters to show up Friday. The rally has become something of a litmus test for the movement, and large numbers on the street would demonstrate the power of the so-called 'Umbrella Revolution'.
By 8 p.m. local time Friday (8 a.m. ET) the main protest was quickly filling with demonstrators, suggesting the leaders' message had been heard.
“That’s why I came down here today,” says Dennis Ng, 38, a secondary school teacher. “There has been no solution up to now and this situation will continue for maybe forever because if there is no discussion, no communication, we will keep coming here and the government will still do nothing.”
Apple Ho, a recently graduated secondary student, came down to support the movement, frustrated that the government appeared “afraid of answering our questions.”
“I do feel a bit angry, but we are just getting used to this,” said Ho. “We have nearly no hope that the government will talk with us.”
On Thursday evening, the number-two official in Hong Kong, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, announced the government’s decision to end talks, declaring it “impossible to have a constructive dialogue" when protest leaders were still calling for more protests. Lam renewed the government’s call that the “illegal occupation activists must stop.”
Protest numbers had dwindled in recent days across the three main protest zones in Hong Kong. Students nevertheless continued to barricade off large swathes of critical road junctures across the city, demanding that their calls for fall universal suffrage be taken seriously.