- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

HONG KONG — Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying refused to meet Tuesday with pro-democracy protesters calling for his resignation, as tens of thousands of demonstrators blocked city streets and braced for an anticipated crackdown by Beijing’s communist regime as early as Wednesday — China’s National Day.

Amid biting wind and rain, protesters erected barricades and stocked up on supplies, saying they were preparing for a long occupation of the city’s financial district and to defend themselves. Thousands packed into Bauhinia Square at the waterfront, where Mr. Leung is expected to attend a ceremony Wednesday marking the 65th anniversary of the 1949 founding of Communist China.

Mr. Leung, Beijing’s hand-picked top official in Hong Kong, called for an “immediate” halt to the protests, which are seeking for China to allow voters in the semiautonomous city to elect their leaders without Beijing’s interference.

Meanwhile, in London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he planned to summon the Chinese ambassador to discuss the dispute, saying it is essential that Hong Kong’s people have a genuine right to choose their top leader, The Associated Press reported.

Participants in the “Umbrella Revolution,” named for the umbrellas protesters use to fend off the weather and tear gas, said they believe the Beijing government is clueless.

“Tens of thousands of people are demonstrating, yet the government is ignoring it,” said Kawai, 29, who has been protesting over the past few days. “My heart breaks to see the government treating the people this way. But I am touched that people who now have no choice but to come out and express themselves are helping each other.”

Protests began last week, with students boycotting schools and universities to demand free elections in 2017, which had been promised by China when it took over the former British colony in 1997. Beijing granted Hong Kong certain civil liberties via a miniconstitution 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.

Pro-democracy demonstrators say the situation is unacceptable. That they have added to their list of demands that the city’s leader resign is a significant development, say analysts.

“It shows that [these demonstrations] are against Beijing but also against their own government,” said Nadine Godehardt, Asia analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

Still, the demonstrations have reminded many outside of Hong Kong of the deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

But observers say the impetus is different.

“What is happening now in Hong Kong, it is also definitely a generational question,” said Ms. Godehardt. “We see the growing frustration of very young people, who were born in the 1990s, fighting for democracy, because they were raised with the idea that at some point they will have free elections and now they feel simply disappointed by the Chinese government that this is no longer possible.”

The international community is worried over Chinese intervention in Hong Kong. But analysts say that would only occur if the city’s leadership requested it. At the same time, a crackdown over the weekend with tear gas and batons drew thousands more onto the streets and broadened the protests.

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