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Hong Kong Leader Hints At Concessions As Talks With Students Begin

Hong Kong Federation of Students council members attend a meeting with senior Hong Kong government officials in Hong Kong on Tuesday.
Tyrone Siu
Hong Kong Federation of Students council members attend a meeting with senior Hong Kong government officials in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Updated at 10:40 a.m. ET

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, at the start of talks today with student-led pro-democracy protesters, says although his Beijing-backed government cannot allow the public to nominate candidates to replace him in 2017, the process could be made "more democratic."

"There's room for discussion there," Leung told a small group of journalists on Tuesday. "There's room to make the nominating committee more democratic."

Three weeks of demonstrations by thousands of activists calling for Leung to step down and open elections to choose his successor have choked key thoroughfares in the bustling financial hub. In recent days,police and protesters have clashed repeatedly, stoking fears of a larger crackdown.

On Sunday, Leung echoed Beijing's line on the protests, blaming "external forces" for helping stoke unrest

In her opening speech at the talks, Leung's deputy, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, said students' voices have been heard clearly by society, the government and central government, according to The South China Morning Post.

"However respectful one's ideal is, it should be achieved by reasonable and lawful ways," Lam added, reiterating the government's consistent position that the protests must stop.

"It is not a debate contest," she said.

Later, Lam said the Hong Kong government is considering submitting a report to Beijing outlining the demands and concerns of the protesters. She said the Chinese leadership could use it as a "reference."

"We cannot deny that in the past month, the class boycott started by you and the occupation movement, something huge has happened," Lam said, according to Bloomberg. "Such a social movement is large scale, and its impact is far-reaching."

Even so, NPR's Frank Langfitt says: "There was almost no agreement and little hope the talks would ease more than three weeks of street protests.

"Both sides staked out familiar positions as thousands watched on screens in Hong Kong's protest camps," he says.

"The government said it must follow the law — and a decision by the Chinese government — that nominees for Hong Kong's next chief executive be screened. The students pushed for open elections, which polls show are supported by most Hong Kong people," Frank reports.

Speaking to The Associated Press, Leung would not say how long the government would allow protests to continue but said police could move to clear the streets at any time.

Late Monday, Leung suggested that universal suffrage would result in the poorest in society dominating the territory's politics.

In an interview with The New York Times and other foreign newspapers, Leung said that if "you look at the meaning of the words 'broadly representative,' it's not numeric representation."

"You have to take care of all the sectors in Hong Kong as much as you can," he said, according to the Times, "and if it's entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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