- - Sunday, October 5, 2014

HONG KONG — Hong Kong leaders said they would remove demonstrators from the city’s main streets Monday, as divisions appeared among pro-democracy activists who have nearly shut down the financial district in nine days of protest against China’s communist government.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, the city’s top official who has refused protesters’ demands to resign, warned in a televised address about use of force to deal with the demonstrators.

“There are many problems to be resolved in society, but the right way is through rational communication not fighting in the streets,” Mr. Leung said. “We will take all necessary actions to restore social order so that government staff can resume work Monday morning and provide services to the public.”

Some groups of protesters near the main government district agreed to abandon the area and dismantle barricades Sunday, while others refused to leave the area. The government said it would do whatever is necessary to ensure 3,000 civil servants would have full access to their offices Monday.

Meanwhile, some student protest leaders agreed to talks with Hong Kong’s leadership about political reforms.

“As to whether the government will keep its word, we will just have to see,” said the Hong Kong Federation of Students, the umbrella group leading the protest. “In the meantime, all we can do is preliminary preparations.”

But the federation vowed to continue protests until details of the talks are worked out.

“If the government uses force to clear away protesters, there will be no room for dialogue,” Lester Shum, one of the group’s leaders, told reporters.

Demonstrations over the weekend swelled to massive levels, with tens of thousands shouting, “Democracy now!”

Some protesters said that despite the leadership’s threat and prospect of negotiations, they would not go home until the chief executive resigned and the city was granted free elections.

“Everyone is hoping for a change,” said Chan Yat Lok Cola, a student at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, who has been protesting for days. “The society belongs to the people. We don’t need a government which ignores our voices.”

The demonstrators’ partial withdrawal appeared to be part of a strategy to regroup in another part of town. Protesters were urged to shift to Hong Kong’s Admiralty shopping and business district, a central location near the government’s main offices that has served as informal headquarters for the protesters, The Associated Press reported.

Alex Chow, another student leader, said he was not worried about the crowd dwindling as people prepared to return to work and school Monday.

“Because people need rest, but they will come out again. It doesn’t mean the movement is diminishing. Many people still support it,” Mr. Chow said.

Analysts said the situation is quickly reaching an impasse.

China is watching the situation warily and calling the demonstrations “illegal,” but has not intervened. Hong Kong’s leadership, which cracked down on the protesters with tear gas and batons late last month, is worried that further violence would inflame tensions and bring more people into the streets in sympathy.

“At the moment, there is not a clear leader [of the protesters] who can negotiate a compromise with the Hong Kong leadership so it is difficult to hold any kind of negotiation to solve this situation,” said Nadine Godehardt, an Asian affairs analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. “This needs to happen at some point.

“Also, the goal — asking the chief executive to step down — is more an emotional [demand] than a realistic one,” Ms. Godehardt said. “It does not make sense because if he steps down, someone else comes in but the system does not change.”

The situation remained volatile across the harbor in Hong Kong’s Mong Kok district, a shopping area where ugly confrontations erupted Friday and Saturday after opponents of the protesters tried to force them out, AP reported. Many demonstrators heeded calls to head home or shift to the Admiralty area. A few hundred, however, appeared determined to stay.

In Mong Kok late Sunday, police officers carrying guns patrolled the area, and at least one officer was seen carrying tear gas canisters.

Protests began late last month, when students boycotted classes to demand free elections in 2017 as China promised when it took over the British colony in 1997. Beijing granted Hong Kong certain civil liberties via a mini-constitution and elections for its top post.

But in proposed guidelines for the vote published in late August, China’s leadership granted the “one man, one vote” rule but rejected an open nomination process for candidates for the city’s leadership post of chief executive.

China wants to limit the number of candidates and make sure those selected are vetted by a committee the way it currently is done — by pro-Beijing elites — essentially leaving the top post under the control of the mainland Communist Party.

That is not acceptable to those on the streets in this “Umbrella Revolution,” named for the protesters’ use of umbrellas to deflect pepper spray used by police.

It is unclear how long the protests will continue, with divisions appearing among groups.

Supporters of the government hit the streets for the first time over the weekend wearing blue ribbons and chanting, “Support our police.” Skirmishes erupted, but they were broken up by police and sometimes the protesters themselves.

About a dozen people were injured and 19 arrested over the weekend, police officials said.

Some said they were tired of the disruption and believe the skirmishes and divisions put the city in a negative light, but they were adamant about staying on the streets.

“I don’t support Occupying Central at all,” said protester Johnson Poon. “However, I support the movement on the whole because I don’t want to enjoy the fruits of possible success without doing anything for that.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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