Hong Kong leader offers talks as anger mounts

Published 10:13 am Thursday, October 16, 2014

HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s leader tried to soothe tensions with student-led democracy protesters Thursday by reviving an offer of talks, though public anger over a video of police kicking a handcuffed activist complicates efforts to end an increasingly bitter political standoff.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the government is ready to start a dialogue with protest leaders as soon as next week.

There was no immediate response from the student leaders, and it was unclear whether the proposed meeting can overcome the vast differences between the two sides.

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Many in Hong Kong were outraged after a group of police officers was caught on camera early Wednesday kicking a protester with his hands cuffed behind his back. The seven officers, who have been suspended, were among hundreds battling with activists for two nights in a row over control of a busy road next to city government headquarters and near the protesters’ main occupation zone.

Tensions between the two sides have escalated in the past few days as riot police armed with pepper spray and batons moved to retake some occupied streets.

“As long as students or other sectors in Hong Kong are prepared to focus on this issue, yes we are ready, we are prepared to start the dialogue,” Leung told reporters, adding that middlemen, whom he did not identify, had been in touch with student protest leaders to convey the government’s wishes.

The protesters have taken over major roads and streets in business and shopping districts across the city since Sept. 26 to press for a greater say in choosing the semiautonomous Chinese city’s leader in an inaugural direct election, promised for 2017.

Leung did not directly respond to questions about when police will move in to clear the sites, though he said that while authorities have tolerated the civil disobedience movement until now, it “cannot go on indefinitely.”