'Umbrella Revolution' continues in Hong Kong as police fall back
The protestors camped out in Hong Kong's Civic Square have begun referring to their movement as the "Umbrella Revolution" - so named because many of the protestors carry umbrellas to ward off the pepper spray and tear gas being used by police in their attempts to disperse them.
Today, there appeared to be an attempt by authorities to ramp down the tension by having riot police pull back from their positions while urging the crowds to go home.This follows a chaotic night of running battles between protestors and police.
But the protestors are having none of it, and it remains to be seen how much rope Beijing will give the protestors before they crack down.
Riot police withdrew from the extraordinary scene of chaotic tear gas-fueled clashes that erupted the evening before and the government asked the student-led protesters to disperse peacefully.
But the demonstrators, whose use of umbrellas, plastic wrap and other improvised defenses has led some to dub their movement the "Umbrella Revolution," remained camped out on a normally busy highway near the Hong Kong government headquarters. Supporters were using the phrase on social media.
Police had tried earlier to negotiate, with an officer asking them through a bullhorn to clear the way for the commuters. A protester, using the group's own speaker system, responded by saying that they wanted Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to demand a genuine choice for the territory's voters.
"Do something good for Hong Kong. We want real democracy!" he shouted.
China has called the protests illegal and endorsed the Hong Kong government's crackdown. The clashes, images of which have been beamed around the world, are undermining the city's image as a safe financial haven, and raised the stakes of the face-off against President Xi Jinping's government. Beijing has taken a hard line against threats to the Communist Party's monopoly on power, including clamping down on dissidents and Muslim Uighur separatists in the country's far west.
The mass protests are the strongest challenge yet to Beijing's decision last month to reject open nominations for candidates under proposed guidelines for the first-ever elections for Hong Kong's leader, promised for 2017. Instead, candidates must continue to be hand-picked by a committee of mostly local pro-Beijing tycoons -- a move that many residents viewed as reneging on promises to allow greater democracy in the semi-autonomous territory.
With rumors swirling, the Beijing-backed and deeply unpopular Leung reassured the public that speculation that the Chinese army might intervene was untrue.
"I hope the public will keep calm. Don't be misled by the rumors. Police will strive to maintain social order, including ensuring smooth traffic and ensuring the public safety," Leung said. "When they carry out their duties, they will use their maximum discretion."
The protests have virtually shut down the city, which has roiled financial markets around the world. The Chinese government is censoring social media in an effort to keep the protests from growing, but this appears to be a futile effort. With virtually no chance the demonstrators will disperse, and Beijing growing more worried that the protests will spread to the mainland, the chances of a brutal, bloody crackdown a la Tiananmen Square grow.
As a Communist government, the Chinese cannot allow Hong Kong the kind of democratic reforms the protestors are demanding. Being able to choose who runs for high office rather than have the candidates hand picked by government stooges would be a terrible precedent from the Chinese Communist point of view and they will do everything they can to prevent it.
The clash, when it comes, will not be pretty.