Hong Kong's government and the city's pro-democracy protesters have agreed to hold formal talks Friday, media reports said late Tuesday, citing officials. The news of the upcoming talks comes as the number of demonstrators has shrunk to a few hundred after days of mass rallies brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets to demand free elections.
Government negotiators and student leaders will discuss the "legal implementations of these political reforms," Lau Kong-wah, the government undersecretary, said, referring to the 2017 elections for Hong Kong's chief executive, BBC reported. Student leaders continue to stand by their two key demands -- full democracy and the resignation of pro-Beijing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying -- despite protests having simmered down from the fervor of the past few days.
"This is an important spot -- we should hold on to this regardless of how many people we have," Helix Kwok, an 18-year-old student who was among several protesters camping outside the chief executive's office on Wednesday, said, according to Agence France-Presse, or AFP. "If we withdraw, the government will then ignore us. With us here, we can react to anything that happens."
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, the deputy to Hong Kong's embattled leader Leung Chun-ying, will reportedly be the principal negotiator from the government's side in Friday’s talks.
Pro-democracy organizers had cancelled talks with Lam last Friday following what they called “organized attacks” on protesters at the Mong Kok demonstration site. Violent clashes between pro-democracy protesters and those against the protests had broken out last Friday.
"We urge Hong Kong officials and Carrie Lam to face the problem of political reform directly, not to use tricks to play us again," Lester Shum, leader of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said, late Tuesday night after the date for the talks was announced, AFP reported.
Shum also reportedly said that the group was "angry and disappointed" that the government proposed to focus the talks on legal technicalities, calling it a ruse for the government to dodge the demand for free elections.
"It shows the government has no sincerity to face Hong Kong's political problems and the dissatisfaction of the many Hong Kong people who protested on the streets," Shum said, according to The Associated Press. "We will continue the occupation protests," he added. "We believe the occupation movement has put very big pressure on the government."
He also added that the talks would not go ahead if the government used force to remove the few remaining protesters from the streets, BBC reported. Demonstrators have also reportedly faced public backlash, but maintain that the protests will continue until their stated goal has been achieved.
"We know we have caused some inconvenience but we have our reasons," Ronald Chan, a protester told BBC. "We hope that other people understand."