Hong Kong's leader has claimed that "external forces" are participating in student-led pro-democracy protests that have occupied parts of this financial capital for more than three weeks, but provided no evidence to back his accusation.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's statement in a televised interview Sunday was the first time he has alleged foreign involvement in the unrest, echoing accusations by China's central government, which also has not backed them with any evidence. Leung's statement comes just before his government is scheduled to hold talks with student leaders on Tuesday.
When asked on the "Newsline" program about a Chinese official's comments on outside involvement, Leung said, "There is obviously participation by people, organizations from outside of Hong Kong." Leung added that the foreign actors came from "different countries in different parts of the world," but didn't specify which countries.
The Hong Kong Federation of Students immediately rejected the accusations, with Secretary General Alex Chow saying Leung was "just making it up."
"He's the chief executive, he's an accountable official," Chow told reporters. "If he's putting forward these accusations, then we hope he also puts forward the evidence. But he shouldn't just say that foreign powers are meddling without evidence."
Leung also said that the movement is now "out of control even for people who started it, for people who planned it, for people who scripted it."
The following day Leung added fuel to the protest by saying that it would be risky to give poor Hong Kongers a greater say in politics.
“You have to take care of all the sectors in Hong Kong as much as you can,” he said, according to the New York 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. Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies.”
Scores of protesters remained in the densely populated Mong Kok shopping district Monday morning after a weekend marked by two nights of violent confrontations with police.
Dozens of people were injured, including 22 police officers, according to Reuters. Four people were arrested, police said.
Tens of thousands of protesters have come out over the past three weeks to demand greater electoral freedoms from Beijing, and Hong Kong’s public has been split — some support their agenda while others oppose the disruption of business in the Asian finance hub.
Some demonstrators on Saturday night through Sunday morning had to be carried away on stretchers and others were treated for head wounds, fractures and bruising, according to Agence France-Presse reporters and medics at the scene.
Police said in a statement that they had used "minimum force" as protesters "suddenly attempted to charge" their cordon lines.
Talks between protest organizers and a representative from the government — Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor — are set for Tuesday.
"I don't expect much from tomorrow's meeting, but I still hold some hope for the talks," said Woody Wong, a 21-year-old student who camped overnight with protesters on Nathan Road, the main thoroughfare in Mong Kok.
"I will keep doing this until the government listens to our voice."
The talks have been called off by both sides multiple times in the past few weeks. Protesters have said what they call law enforcement’s “excessive force” is a sign that the authorities are not interested in a genuine dialogue, and Hong Kong officials have said the same of continued calls to block key thoroughfares in the city.
The mostly peaceful protests, led by a restive generation of students, have called for China's Communist Party rulers live up to constitutional promises to grant full democracy to the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Hong Kong is ruled under a "one country, two systems" formula developed by China’s then-Chairman Deng Xiaoping in his negotiations with London, which allows the territory wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms and specifies universal suffrage for Hong Kong as an eventual goal.
But Beijing ruled on Aug. 31 that it would screen candidates who want to run for the city's chief executive in 2017, which democracy activists said rendered the universal suffrage concept meaningless. The protesters are demanding free elections for their leader.
On Friday, Hong Kong police had cleared protesters from their Mong Kok encampments, returning the flow of traffic in the area. But that night, protesters returned to the site. On Sunday, there were calls to block more roads in the district.
Mongkok has also been the site of violent skirmishes between protesters and their opponents — Beijing supporters and Hong Kong residents upset by the demonstrations’ disruption of daily life. The clashes have left scores injured.
With wire services