The government in Hong Kong backed out of talks with students fronting pro-democracy protests Thursday morning, stating it was not ready to discuss their demands for democracy and insisting that "illegal" occupation of the streets must end before negotiations could begin.
According to the Washington Post, government's decision may have only prolonged the protests, which were dwindling as promises of negotiations eased tension on the streets. Immediately following the announcement, student leaders responded by calling people back out to the streets.
"We won't stop until our voices are heard," said demonstrator Susan Cho.
The talks were canceled by conciliator Carrie Lam, who accused the students of "shifting their demands." Ms. Lam said students were now calling for the Chinese government to rescind its decision concerning public nominations for Hong Kong's Chief Executive, which she called a breach of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution. She said a previous open letter from students to the government on Oct. 2 didn't include this demand.
In order for talks to convene, she stated, students would have to accept the Beijing decision and stop promoting protests.
"I urge protesters to take into account public interest and retreat from the occupied site immediately," Ms. Lam said.
She said protest leaders had failed to listen to "rational voices" urging them to end their campaign of civil disobedience, adding that the "illegal occupation of the streets must end."
"We think that the foundation of the talks has been shaken and we could not have a constructive meeting tomorrow."
However, student leaders accused the government of changing their mind concerning the talks because the number of people attending was dwindling, and urged demonstrators to return to the peaceful occupation. "I feel like the government is saying that if there are fewer people on the streets, they can cancel the meeting," said Alex Chow, head of the Hong Kong Federation of Students. "Students urge people who took part in the civil disobedience to go out on the streets again to occupy."
Chow also called the government's initial promise of negotiations insincere, as it failed to even find a venue for Friday's planned discussion.
"We are not asking the government to respond to us by solving all the problems at once," he said. "They could give some instructions or administrative work to give a blueprint of how all the constitutional reform problems could be settled, but right up to this moment the government has still not given us a concrete proposal to solve the problem."
Sebastian Veg, director of the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China, called the government's decision "terribly irresponsible."
"I believe there are a range of technical compromises that can be reached between the students and the government, but the government has consistently demonstrated ill will in simply acknowledging the students' demands," he said.
However, he encouraged the students to devise a new strategy instead of returning to the streets due to growing annoyance at the disruption caused by the protests.
"This would highlight the moral bankruptcy of this embattled government and preserve the students' moral high ground," he said. "When the government acts like children, the students are called upon to act like the only adults in the room - as they have done so far."
Wong says the students plan to reach out in different neighborhoods to explain the group's efforts, but will not give up protesting until their demands are considered.
"We understand there are different voices urging us to retreat from a particular place," said Chow. "But we would say the government has to give some reason for those occupiers to retreat. Without any concrete things given by government, it is totally impossible to persuade anyone to retreat from any places."