09/22/2014, 00.00
HONG KONG - CHINA

Big pro-democracy student strike starts in Hong Kong

The weeklong class boycott began today. "[P]ained and outraged to see the advancement of democracy in Hong Kong stifled and suppressed," about 400 academics and non-teaching staff stand by students, who are "Hong Kong's future". Occupy Central is planning a silent sit-in for 1 October, anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic. Billionaires from the former colony are set to meet with Xi Jinping to ask him to "stop" the pro-democracy movement.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Thousands of students today began a week of strikes and boycotts to push Beijing to respond sincerely to their demands for democracy in Hong Kong. In the morning though, they packed classrooms for the start of the new school year, and began their protest action after the lunch break and planned to continue until 26 September.

Hundreds of teachers, intellectuals and activists have publicly expressed their support for the students. By contrast, Hong Kong business leaders flew to Beijing to ask President Xi Jinping to "stop" Occupy Central.

Groups such as the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism are behind the boycott. Alex Chow Yong-kang, the Federation's secretary general, said that today they would send a letter to current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and three other officials in charge of political reform demanding a response to Hongkongers' aspiration for "genuine" universal suffrage.

Strikes and public protests associated with Occupy Central, a non-violent movement calling for democracy in the former British colony, followed Beijing's rejection of their demands in relation to the 2017 vote. Beijing wants Hongkongers to choose the Special Region's new chief executive from a list of two or three pre-selected candidates in an indirect vote.

About 400 academics and non-teaching staff have expressed their support for the students. More than 80 public lectures are planned for the event, including one by Hong Kong Archbishop emeritus Card Joseph Zen Ze-kiun.

"As teachers and as citizens, we are pained and outraged to see the advancement of democracy in Hong Kong stifled and suppressed," read the statement signed by university staff.

In addition to the strike, Occupy Central is planning other forms of protest. According to some reports, a silent sit-in could be held on 1 October, China's National Day, which marks the founding of the People's Republic.

"I am really afraid of being sent to jail . . . I am really afraid of the Communist Party," Occupy Central co-founder Reverend Chu Yiu-ming told the South China Morning Post. "But I am ready to conquer and pay the price [for democracy]," he said. "I am already 70 years old ... I come out just in the hope of clearing some obstacles and paving a smoother road for our next generation

The struggle for democracy has gained the support of some Protestant Churches as well as that of the Catholic Church, for whom peaceful expressions of dissent are "legitimate".

The Anglican Church has instead called on its members to urge Christians to "remain silent" in the face of social conflicts as Jesus was silent on the cross.

According to Chu, elected leader of the movement, it is normal for different churches to express different views; however, it is "a worse thing to cite the Bible and create misunderstanding among the congregation or the society".

Chu said Christians of other denominations should not look askance at a leader like Zen. Instead, they should be grateful for the cardinal's support for democracy.

"You can say that he doesn't represent the [Protestant] church, but his expressions . . . reflect the church's basic core values," Chu noted.

Meanwhile, in order to curb the pro-democratic tide, a group of 70 heavyweights from the Hong Kong business community flew to Beijing to ask President Xi Jinping to "stop" Occupy Central.

Led by former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, the tycoons are attending a seminar held today by the National Development and Reform Commission on the country's economy.

They are scheduled to meet Xi in the Great Hall of the People in the afternoon and attend a dinner hosted by National People's Congress Standing Committee chairman Zhang Dejiang.

This reception was intended to secure "the billionaires' support," said pro-democracy Hong Kong lawmaker and long-time activist Lee Cheuk-yan.

However, "The more the tycoons stand on Beijing's side, the more determined we are to veto the reform package," he added.

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