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Hong Kong democracy protesters digging in for long haul

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Hong Kong’s democracy protest leaders implored supporters Friday to bring tents and dig in for the long haul, threatening to expand their occupation of key parts of the city after talks with the government collapsed.

Crunch negotiations between protesters and Beijing-backed city officials were slated for Friday, but fell apart Thursday after the government pulled out, blaming student leaders for attempting to escalate demonstrations.

The decision deepened the political crisis convulsing the Asian financial hub, with the failure of talks expected to reinvigorate mass rallies that have paralysed parts of the city for nearly two weeks.

Demonstrators are calling for Beijing to grant the former British colony full democracy and for the city’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to resign.

Under plans unveiled by China in August, Hong Kongers will be able to vote for Leung’s successor in 2017, but only two to three vetted candidates will be allowed to stand — something detractors have dismissed as a “fake democracy”.

Student leaders Friday blamed the government for pulling out of talks, and insisted they were still open to finding a middle ground.

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But they vowed no let up in their occupation of parts of Hong Kong despite growing public anger over the disruption they have caused.

“Come to occupy the road outside the public headquarters, come bring your tents to show our persistence on long term occupy action,” student leader Joshua Wong told supporters at the main protest site outside the government headquarters ahead of a planned mass rally at 7:30 pm (1130 GMT).

Crowds have dwindled in recent days. At the main protest site Friday afternoon only a few hundred could be seen.

But the movement’s leaders are banking on both mustering significant numbers over the weekend and potentially expanding their sit-ins to keep pressure on the government.

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“We are now planning on further action for escalating (the campaign) if the government keeps denying the meeting,” student leader Alex Chow said.

– Rising political temperature –

Analysts Friday warned that the collapse of the talks pushes the confrontation between democracy protesters and the government into a dangerous phase, with neither side willing to back down.

Sunny Lo, a political analyst at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, said the government was spooked by a promise from pro-democracy lawmakers Thursday to disrupt the workings of the government in the city’s parliament, known locally as LegCo, in a show of support for protesters.

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“This is not a good sign now. The temperature is rising both inside and outside LegCo,” he told AFP.

“If (the) Occupy Central movement drags on for a few more weeks I’m afraid police action would be inevitable. It would just be a matter of time,” he added.

But Michael DeGolyer, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, said a violent police reaction was unlikely given it could reinvigorate the protest movement.

“They’re not going to do the martyrdom thing. That would be a completely unnecessary act of dominance,” he said.

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With patience among many Hong Kongers running out following days of disruption, pressure is mounting on both Leung and the protest leaders to solve the stalemate.

Leung’s opponents were given a major boost this week when details emerged that he had kept secret large payments from an Australian company while he was in office.

The Beijing-backed chief executive has denied any wrongdoing, saying he was under no obligation to declare the earnings and that he did not work for any company while in office.

But opposition lawmakers have smelled blood, threatening to bring impeachment proceedings against him while the city’s top prosecutor will probe the allegations after a complaint was lodged with Hong Kong’s anti-corruption watchdog.

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Observers say Leung’s bosses in China show no signs of dropping their support for the embattled leader.

“For the time being, Beijing will continue to let him deal with the crisis,” Surya Deva, a law professor at City University of Hong Kong told AFP.

“But if he messes it up further, his head could come into the firing line.”

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