(Reuters) - Hong Kong students and the government stood their ground on Monday ahead of talks aimed at defusing more than three weeks of pro-democracy protests that have blocked traffic around the Chinese-controlled city, but expectations of a breakthrough were low.
Student-led protesters are calling for free elections in the former British trading post, but China insists on screening candidates first. Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, has said the city’s government was unwilling to compromise on China’s restrictions.
The talks between student representatives and senior city government officials, scheduled for Tuesday evening, may yield small confidence-building measures and an agreement to continue the dialogue, but are unlikely to bridge the chasm between the two sides or end the demonstrations.
"I don’t expect much from tomorrow’s meeting, but I still hold some hope for the talks," said protester Woody Wong, a 21-year-old student who camped overnight on Nathan Road, the main thoroughfare in the densely populated Mong Kok district.
POSSIBLE WIGGLE ROOM
The Hong Kong government’s scope for negotiation is severely limited by the ruling Communist Party in Beijing, which at the end of August announced the parameters for the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s leader that sparked the protests.
The government may have some wiggle room in determining how the committee that selects candidates for Hong Kong’s leadership election is picked, Sung said. The committee is now expected to be stacked with Beijing loyalists, anointing only candidates palatable to China’s Communist Party.
"There is some flexibility within the framework, but the problem is whether or not the students will accept it," said Sung. "No one knows because the students are all idealistic."
Leung, who has rejected calls by protesters to quit, said on Sunday that more time was needed to broker what he hoped would be a non-violent end to the upheaval.
"To work out a solution, to put an end to this problem, we need time. We need time to talk to the people, particularly young students," he told Hong Kong’s ATV Television. "What I want is to see a peaceful and a meaningful end to this problem."