Nearly 1,000 Hong Kong secondary school pupils, some wearing uniforms, joined university students on Friday to bolster a days-long protest against Beijing’s refusal to grant the city unfettered democracy.
Throngs of teenage students — many saying they had defied their parents’ wishes — descended on the Southern Chinese city’s government headquarters to add their voices to a class boycott kicked off by university students on Monday.
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Student groups are spearheading a civil disobedience campaign along with democracy activists in protest at Beijing’s decision to vet who can stand for Hong Kong’s top post of chief executive at the next election.
University students rallied a crowd on Monday that organisers said was 13,000-strong on a campus in the north of the city and breathing new life into a movement left stunned by Beijing’s hardline stance.
On Thursday night, more than 2,000 people took their protest to the residence of Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying with the hope of speaking directly to him. Leung has so far refused to speak with the students or meet their leaders.
Protests continued Friday morning with around 900 secondary school students as young as 13 gathering outside the city’s main government complex shouting: “I want real elections not fake ones”.
“The government is ignoring our voices so I think that if we have so many secondary students boycotting the classes maybe then they will be willing to listen to us,” Agnes Yeung, a high school student, told AFP.
Chung Chun-wai, 17, said many of his friends came out to protest despite being told not to do so by their parents, highlighting the often sharp generational divide in the former British colony over its political future.
“I think secondary school students are a part of the society and I consider myself a citizen of Hong Kong. That’s why I think I need to bear the responsibility to care about the society and to voice out real opinions of Hong Kongers,” he said.
Organisers said 1,200 people showed up to the secondary school strike with more students and ordinary citizens arriving each hour at the government headquarters.
Meanwhile around 300 people, mostly elderly retirees originally from mainland China, staged a counter-protest to support Beijing’s decision in neighbouring Tamar Park, replacing students who had gathered there since Tuesday.
“All this talk of civil disobedience and Occupy Central will harm the city,” said Li Linglan, 65, speaking in Mandarin Chinese rather than the Cantonese dialect of Hong Kong, as she held her granddaughter.
– ‘Ten thousand people’
Occupy Central, a prominent grassroots pro-democracy group, has vowed to take over the city’s Central financial district if its demand that Hong Kongers be allowed to nominate candidates for leader is not met.
“After next week’s action we may not be able to change the standing committee’s decision immediately, but if we could have that very strong determination shown, I personally have the confidence that one day democracy will come to Hong Kong,” Occupy co-founder Benny Tai told reporters at the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club Friday.
Tai had previously hinted the takeover of Central could begin on October 1, a national holiday when much of the district will be empty.
“I have confidence that we will have 10,000 people there,” he said.
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 could stand.
Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a ‘one country, two systems’ agreement which allows it civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including free speech and the right to protest.