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Hong Kong Protesters Vow To Step Up Pro-Democracy Campaign

Protesters shout slogans outside a flag-raising ceremony that Hong Kong's embattled leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, attended in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
Vincent Yu
Protesters shout slogans outside a flag-raising ceremony that Hong Kong's embattled leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, attended in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

A deadline set by Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators for the territory's leader to step down has passed without his resignation, triggering a new phase to the protests that have brought parts of the Asian financial hub to a standstill.

Protesters, who took to the streets by the tens of thousands last week to demand the open election of Hong Kong's next leader, heckled the territory's Beijing-appointed chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, during a flag-raising ceremony to mark China's National Day.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn, reporting from Hong Kong, tells Morning Edition that the unpopular leader has been derisively nicknamed "689" by many people in the city in a reference to the fact that he was hand-picked by a committee of 689 Chinese professionals with strong ties to the Beijing government.

As part of the agreement handing the former British colony over to China in 1997, Beijing was supposed to allow open elections for the territory's leader, but in recent months, the Chinese leadership has said it will tightly control the list of nominees.

With Leung standing firm, some of the student-led protesters have vowed to occupy key government buildings — a move that would up the ante in what many view as a dangerous game of chicken with Chinese authority.

The South China Morning Post reports: "At a news conference this afternoon they gave [Leung] until Thursday [local time] to step down, vowing to occupy important government buildings if he failed to do so. Their actions, if carried out, would almost inevitably lead to physical confrontation with security agencies."

Hong Kong is 12 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal, citing a person familiar with the matter, says Leung has adopted a wait-it-out strategy, hoping that the inconvenience caused by the protests would eventually cause a shift in public opinion against the activists.

The Journalreports:

" 'Beijing has set a line to C.Y. You cannot open fire,' this person said. 'You must halt it in a peaceful way.'

"The thinking behind the tactic is to resolve the standoff by peaceful means and comes after a move on Sunday to deploy tear gas backfired on the government.

" 'The strategy is to control the situation and let them occupy until a time that the inconvenience caused to others in Hong Kong will swing the public opinion against Occupy or pressure the organizers to call it off,' this person said. 'They can wait to a time the public opinion will swing.' "

NPR's Kuhn says the backlash from police use of tear gas and pepper spray over the weekend to try to break up the protests "stung" Hong Kong authorities.

Now, he says, "they've pulled back all the riot police — they are nowhere to be seen here, so it's unlikely that there will be a quick government response. But this is a city that thrives on business, and it's happened before that protesters have outlived their welcome."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.