HONG KONG (AFP) – Striking students marched on Hong Kong’s financial district Wednesday, taking their protest for greater democratic rights to the city’s commercial centre for the first time.
Student groups are currently leading a civil disobedience campaign by a coalition of democracy activists protesting against a recent decision by Beijing to vet who can stand for the city’s top post at the next election.
University students began a week-long class boycott on Monday, rallying a crowd that organisers said was 13,000-strong on a campus in the north of the city and breathing new life into a movement that had been stunned by Beijing’s hardline stance.
On Tuesday the students moved their protest to a public park outside the main legislative complex of the semi-autonomous Chinese city, briefly mobbing Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying as he exited the building.
Around 300 students made their way from the city’s Tamar Park to Central district, where many major international companies are based.
A protester holds a placard which reads ‘civil disobedience’ during a march at the financial Central district in Hong Kong September 24. Hundreds of Hong Kong students marched through the heart of the financial centre on Wednesday chanting pro-democracy slogans ahead of a planned blockade of government buildings if the city’s leader fails to discuss their demands for free elections – REUTERS
Shouts of “We want democracy!” amplified by bullhorns echoed around the district famously dominated by towering skyscrapers.
“This march is to show the rich, the people working in Central, the people with real power in Hong Kong, that they can’t ignore this grassroots movement,” said Nathaniel Siu, 18, an applied social science student at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Siu said that his mother, who works in one of the office buildings along the protest route, does not approve of his activism, adding that dinner conversations have become increasingly awkward at home.
“Walking to Central shows more people we really care about democracy, that we’re serious. We’re not just sitting in a park anymore,” said Tiffany Fong as she pointed a handheld fan towards her face in the humid Hong Kong weather.
Occupy Central, a prominent grassroots pro-democracy group, has vowed to take over Central if its demand that Hong Kongers be allowed to nominate candidates for leader is not met.
Last month China said Hong Kongers would be allowed to vote for their leader for the first time in the 2017 election, but that only two or three candidates approved by a pro-Beijing committee would be allowed to stand.
But the students are not expected to engage in direct action during Wednesday’s march.
Federation of Students leader Alex Chow has given Leung until Thursday morning to meet their delegates. If Leung refuses, Chow said, students will then ratchet up their actions.
Occupy co-founder Benny Tai has hinted that the takeover of Central could begin on October 1, a national holiday when much of the district will be empty.