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Hong Kong Protests Swell After Talks Canceled

Pro-democracy protesters walk outside tents set up on a main road leading the the financial Central district in Hong Kong, October 10, 2014.
Pro-democracy protesters walk outside tents set up on a main road leading the the financial Central district in Hong Kong, October 10, 2014.

Thousands of protesters have gathered in Hong Kong to renew their calls for electoral reform.

Reports said the numbers at the demonstrations were up from earlier in the week, but by late Friday they had not reached the thousands seen over the past week.

Protesters are calling for people to join them in camping out in Hong Kong's Admiralty neighborhood, home to many government offices, as they register their dismay at the government's canceling talks with protest leaders.

Government authorities backed out of the talks late Thursday, saying the negotiations scheduled for Friday could not be held while the protests, which they view as illegal, continue.

The Beijing-friendly government was angered by student leaders' threats to escalate the protests if their demands for democratic reform were not met.

The protesters are demanding that Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying resign and that Beijing reverse its decision to screen candidates for the territory's 2017 election.

Attempts to force Leung to resign may be bolstered by the recent emergence of media reports accusing the leader of taking $6.4 million in undisclosed payments from an Australian company while in office.

Leung has denied any wrongdoing in accepting the payments, saying the deal was a standard non-compete clause signed before he became chief executive. Several pro-democracy lawmakers have called for an investigation into the deal.

Alex Chow of the Hong Kong Federation of Students on Thursday blamed the government for the stall in negotiations, saying the students had not done anything to provoke the action. He ridiculed the government's decision to cancel the talks.

"Hong Kong is an international metropolitan city. This move by the government - this response by the government, is absolutely an international laughing stock,” said Chow.

Earlier, Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam told reporters that the protesters' call for an expansion of their movement has shaken the trust of the government and made productive talks impossible.

Lam said the government does not want to be linked with possibly illegal actions.

"We cannot accept the fact that someone will link the talks with possible continued illegal Occupy [Central] actions," said Lam.

US Congress supports protesters

Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong received a strong statement of support from a U.S. congressional panel, which suggested Washington resume regular monitoring of the semiautonomous Chinese territory.

In an annual report released Thursday, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China said Beijing's recent actions "raise concerns about the future of the fragile freedoms and rule of law that distinguish Hong Kong from mainland China."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Friday slammed the report as inaccurate and warned U.S. lawmakers to stop sending the "wrong message" to the protesters.

"The report by this U.S. body distorts facts and is a deliberate attack on China. We express our extreme dissatisfaction about it. We demand that this committee stop this wrong interference in and damaging of Sino-U.S. relations," said Hong.

In unveiling the report, Senator Sherrod Brown called on President Barack Obama to press Chinese President Xi Jinping on "issues like Hong Kong" when the two leaders meet next month at a summit in Beijing.

The report also said the U.S. State Department should resume annual briefings to Congress on the status of Hong Kong's democratic institutions and China’s obligations under international treaties and agreements.

The reports were mandated under a 1992 law, but stopped in 2000, three years after Britain returned Hong Kong to China.

The White House has avoided expressing outright support for the protesters, but has said it supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

China has condemned those remarks as interference in its internal affairs.

Some information in this report was provided aby AP, AFP and Reuters.