Hong Kong protest numbers dwindle as talks make slow progress

Small knots of pro-democracy demonstrators remained on
Hong Kong’s streets Tuesday after protest leaders agreed to
talks with the government and some students returned to
school to study for exams.
Talks between the government and student leaders are
progressing at a snail’s pace, although even protest leaders
are now acutely worried that further disruption could
alienate supporters.
The mass protests for fully free elections have brought parts
of the city to a standstill for more than a week, and while
many in the city remain supportive of the movement, they
also want to resume their daily lives.
A second round of “preparatory talks” was held late Monday
night in a bid to set conditions for formal negotiations.
Students had already agreed to talks with Chief Secretary
Carrie Lam but called them off on Friday after what they
described as “organised attacks” on protesters at the Mong
Kok demonstration site.
“We will have multiple rounds of negotiation,” said Lester
Shum late Monday, deputy secretary general of the Hong
Kong Federation of Students (HKFS).
Tuesday saw another day of traffic mayhem, with diversions
still in place causing nose-to-tail jams and commuter
frustration, truncated bus routes and the reopening of
primary schools adding to the chaos.
The few protesters that remain are still determined to make
their point — although they are unsure of the result.
“To be honest, I don’t have confidence that we can succeed.
But whether we succeed or not, I am giving my best. I also
learned that we can speak out when it is needed,” said
Dickson Yeung, 20, who works as a customer relations
officer.
“I still have hopes that we can achieve our goal of having
true democracy,” said May Lim, a 19-year-old university
student, who has been protesting at the Admiralty site for a
week.
But she added that she would have to return to classes to
work for exams.
“I skipped classes completely last week. Except resting for a
day or two, I have been staying here all day long. But this
week I am going to classes. Mid-term tests are coming,” she
said.
– ‘Extraordinary time’ –
Numbers of demonstrators had grown since early morning
but remained low at the protest sites as well as outside the
central government offices.
A cabinet meeting due to be held Tuesday at the government
complex was relocated, although workers there were
moving freely in and out.
The opening of the city’s de-facto parliament scheduled for
Wednesday was also postponed to next week.
“I am not assured that there is a quiet and safe environment
in the surroundings for a meeting to be held,” Legislative
Council president Jasper Tsang said.
“We do not easily change meeting schedules. It is a very
special situation at an extraordinary time.”
A four-day environment symposium which was to gather 11
Nobel laureates in Hong Kong from Wednesday, was also
scrapped due to “sustained disruptions in the city”.
While some commuters have voiced irritation at their
disrupted journeys to work, others are taking advantage of
highways which have been temporarily pedestrianised by
the protests — some office workers enjoyed al fresco
lunches on the road on a sunny afternoon Tuesday.
“It’s a refreshing change from the usually chaotic traffic,”
said a telecoms worker who identified himself as Lars and
has lived in Hong Kong for six years.
“I’m trying to make the most of the traffic-free road while it
lasts.”

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