Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong subsided on Monday as students and civil servants returned to school and work after more than a week of demonstrations, but activists vowed to keep up their campaign of civil disobedience.
Later Monday, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying issued a televised statement, urging people to leave the Mong Kok district, where violent clashes occurred over the weekend, and said that the government is "sincere in having dialogue on constitutional development."
"People have now gathered in Mong Kok again. The likelihood of clashes between people holding strong but different views is constantly increasing,” Leung said.
“To prevent violent crimes from happening and minimize injuries and fatalities, the police will take actions at a suitable time. I would, in particular, advise students, onlookers and other people to leave the highly dangerous area as soon as possible,” he said.
Leung also said, "We are sincere in having dialogue on constitutional development.”
Demonstrators remain on streets
As the sun rose over Hong Kong Monday morning, an incredulous cheer spread among the hundreds of students who had slept the night on the financial district’s streets. Many demonstrators had feared riot police would try to forcibly remove them.
As the day wore on, though, the number of demonstrators ebbed.
Just a week after riot police fired tear gas at the democracy activists, many were unsure the campaign would get this far.
A recently awoken Jane Chow, 27, is one of those.
She said she remains skeptical about the government’s intentions, and expects riot police to use force to evict the protesters in the coming days.
“That’s very likely to happen, yes. But if they're smart, they won’t do it in a way that is overly violent. Even if the government tries to clear out the protest, I don’t think that at least on the side of the protesters there will be any violence,” Chow said.
Demonstrators said they believe the reason Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying did not send out forces to clear the streets is because students met one of the leader’s two conditions for negotiations to begin: allowing civil servants back into the central government office complex.
The status of the talks also remained unclear. Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK reported that student leaders met government officials at Hong Kong University late on Sunday but no clear resolutions emerged.
“It's clear there is still discrepancy between the expectations from both parties towards the dialog,” Lester Shum, vice secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, told a news conference late on Sunday.
By 9 a.m. Monday, hundreds of civil servants were flowing out of the nearby metro station to their office, with student marshals ensuring them a clear path.
One woman, who refused to give her name, was unimpressed. She berated the activists for not allowing workers to resume their duties sooner.
The elderly government cleaner complained the students do not realize that these are hard times and that she and other government workers have jobs to do and livelihoods to protect.
Overseeing the marshals, Lam Ming said it might be increasingly hard for the movement to maintain community support. He insisted, however, that the activists have not made too many concessions to Leung, with nothing to show in return.
“You can say that we concede quite substantially in letting civil servants come to work. It is [now] their [government's] responsibility to give way on the negotiation table," Ming said. "I don’t think in the foreseeable future the protesters will be willing to concede the roads."
By late Monday afternoon, about a hundred protesters remained in an area that houses offices for international banks as well as the main stock exchange, although some students on campus remained defiant and promised to return after classes in the evening.
“I hope students can persist. If we retreat now we will lose the power to negotiate,” said Chow Ching-lam, studying on the ground at the protest site near Leung's offices.
Not all is back to normal in Hong Kong.
Some schools and businesses remain closed.
The protests have ebbed and flowed over the past week, with protesters leaving the streets overnight to return later. The test on Monday will be whether that pattern continues in the face of the government's determination to get Hong Kong back to work.
Demonstrators said they will remain in the streets until Leung resigns and the authorities allow free elections.
For now, neither side is willing to back down in a continuing political brinkmanship that is being closely watched around the world.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.