FT / China backs Hong Kong leader CY Leung over use of tear gas

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SHAFAQNA – China has accused pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong of spreading “chaos” in the Asian financial hub, as it publicly backed CY Leung, chief executive, for the first time amid growing calls for his resignation. The People’s Daily, the Communist party mouthpiece, on Thursday said China “fully trusts” Mr Leung and was “very satisfied” with him. State media has previously backed the Hong Kong government but without naming the chief executive.

Huge crowds have taken to the streets of Hong Kong since Sunday to take part in a democracy movement calling on China to reverse course on a controversial plan for electoral reform in the territory. The protests pose the most serious problem for the Communist party since the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989.

The number of protesters near the government headquarters has fallen from earlier in the week but the mood appeared to be the most tense since Monday when police last fired tear gas at protesters. Students blocked a road to Mr Leung’s office as they prepared to escalate their campaign. They had earlier vowed to occupy government buildings unless Mr Leung resigned on Thursday.

The police warned of “serious consequences” if demonstrators occupied government buildings.

Police have cordoned off both ends of the road leading to the chief executive’s office in Central. Most of the students contemplating storming the building – possibly when their deadline for Mr Leung to resign expires at midnight – are gathered at the north entrance.

At one point a police officer asked the crowd to move back from the barricades and said the authorities have no plan to use tear gas at the moment. But when protesters shouted “explain, explain” referring to reports that witnesses had earlier seen police carrying tear gas and plastic bullets near Mr Leung’s offices she refused to answer.

Some protesters took out cling film and face masks in preparation for an attack and students asked people with children to leave the area.

Tony Wong, an 18-year-old high school student who was wearing goggles and a poncho, said students were worried because the police presence has increased significantly.

“I am very scared that they will attack us,” said Mr Wong.

Allan Zeman, a well-known businessman, said the students would jeopardise the support they had created through peaceful protests if they escalated the campaign. “Some of the students are talking about taking over some government offices and escalating the kind of love festival that we have had up to now [which] would be a disaster and would turn public opinion against the students,” said Mr Zeman.

Yung Kin-shing, 30, said he hoped the students would not destroy the peaceful protest movement by forcibly entering the building. Some students are apparently having second thoughts after seeing the editorial in the People’s Daily which suggested that Beijing was behind Mr Leung.

“I think the government is waiting for the chance to use their weapons,” said Mr Yung. “I just feel, don’t give them any chance. “

Human Rights Watch called on the Hong Kong government to avoid excessive force in dealing with the protests. Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW, said Mr Leung should “show the kind of tolerance for peaceful protest for which Hong Kong is known, not the intolerance that we see for it in the mainland”.

The Federation of Hong Kong Students, one of two student groups pushing the protests, and Occupy Central, a group spearheading a civil disobedience campaign, this week expanded their demands to include the resignation of Mr Leung after the police fired tear gas at peaceful protesters on Sunday.

The People’s Daily article said Beijing “firmly supports” the way Hong Kong police handled the “illegal activities”.

Regina Ip, head of the pro-establishment New People’s party, said students were unrealistic to think Mr Leung would step down.

“I don’t think he will be allowed to resign [by Beijing] because if a chief is unseated this way Hong Kong would become government by mass mobilisation,” said Ms Ip.

Ms Ip, who on Thursday offered to mediate between the protesters and the Leung administration, said the chief executive needed to take a more prominent role. Mr Leung has only held one press conference since the protests started on Friday.

“I am not suggesting he should walk into a public forum with many angry students,” Ms Ip said. “But I think he really should raise his profile and be seen to be more proactive in listening to the people and representing the Hong Kong people.”

Mr Leung has so far shown no interest in talking to the protesters. He has urged people to accept the electoral reform plan, which would introduce universal suffrage – one person, one vote – for the 2017 chief executive election, saying it would give people in Hong Kong more democracy than they had under British colonial rule.

Critics describe the plan as “sham democracy” since the public would have no role in nominating candidates. It also allows Beijing essentially to vet candidates in advance.

Chan Kin-man, co-founder of Occupy Central, on Wednesday said the protesters would not sit down with Mr Leung.

The protests have hit one of the central business districts in Hong Kong, forcing some shops to close. Mr Zeman said China was talking about limiting the number of visas for its citizens visiting Hong Kong, which would impact the territory because a large proportion of its retail sales are made to mainlanders.

“The economic damage for Hong Kong is very very serious,” said Mr Zeman, who is an adviser to the New People’s party, adding that this week’s “Golden Week” holiday was usually “the biggest business bonanza” for the territory.

Earlier this week, L’Oréal said it was banning staff from travelling to Hong Kong for business.

Additional reporting by Julie Zhu

Twitter: @AsiaNewsDemetri

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