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Protesters in Hong Kong to vote on government proposals

Friday, October 24, 2014 - 13:42
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Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong say they will hold a straw poll on government proposals they had rejected earlier in the week as the campaign in the Chinese-controlled city entered the fifth week on Friday.

[HONG KONG] Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong say they will hold a straw poll on government proposals they had rejected earlier in the week as the campaign in the Chinese-controlled city entered the fifth week on Friday.

With crowds likely to swell at the weekend, student leaders late on Thursday announced a plan for an electronic poll of protesters on reform proposals tabled by senior city government officials in talks on Tuesday that failed to break the deadlock.

"The government always says that the students don't represent the people in the plaza and Hong Kong citizens, so we are here to make all our voices heard and we will tell the government clearly what we think," Alex Chow, one of the students guiding the movement, told protesters late on Thursday.

Demonstrators would be asked whether the government's offer to submit a report to China's State Council, or cabinet, on the Occupy protests that have roiled Hong Kong, would have any practical purpose, with a bid to collating these responses to strengthen their bargaining position.

Friday marks the start of the fifth week since tens of thousands began blocking major roads to oppose to a plan by the Chinese central government to let Hong Kong people vote for their leader in 2017 for the first time but limit candidates to those vetted by a panel stacked with Beijing loyalists.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee on Thursday gave a boost to the protest movement by calling on China to ensure universal suffrage in Hong Kong, including the right to stand for election as well as the right to vote. Committee members voiced concerns about the right to stand without unreasonable restrictions, chiming with protester demands for civil nominations for the 2017 poll.

A chasm exists between the government and the protesters who have been calling for open nominations in 2017 and for the current leader, Leung Chun-ying, to step down.

The government branded the movement's occupation of streets illegal and has repeatedly said open nominations are not allowed under the laws of the former British colony.

The talks on Tuesday marked a shift in the government's approach from stonewalling to dialogue, although expectations for a breakthrough had been low.

The poll to be held on Sunday would be the first potentially constructive response from the protesters after the student leaders emerged from the talks disappointed. They planned to hand the results to the government on Monday.

The poll will also seek views on the establishment of a platform for dialogue on constitutional development, and whether it should come into effect before 2017 as student leaders want. "I am ready to vote any time. My demands have never changed but my expectations from the government have been lowered," said Lau Wah, a 21-year-old protester helping manning a provisions station amid a sea of tents at a major protest site.

Protesters would register for the poll, which would be restricted to occupied areas, with their phone number and Hong Kong identity card. "We will use these figures to bargain with the government on Monday. We will be able to better represent the people and take the initiative on behalf of them," said Benny Tai, a law professor and one of the organisers of the "Occupy" movement.

A massive yellow banner with an umbrella symbolising the people's movement and calling for "real universal suffrage" was hung from the iconic Lion Rock mountain on Thursday by a group of climbing enthusiasts, in a prominent symbol of the movement that could be clearly seen from the city below.

REUTERS