10/07/2014, 00.00
HONG KONG - CHINA

Card Zen stands with Hong Kong students, united for democracy, "until we are either dispersed or arrested"

Tonight, the cardinal will spend the night with the students demonstrating in Admiralty. The talks proposed by the government are a trick to divide the pro-democracy movement. It would be better to pull back now after scoring two victories, namely getting people to demonstrate en masse for democracy, and forcing Beijing to show its true face. Interview with Hong Kong's bishop emeritus, a great champion of democracy and religious freedom.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Card Joseph Zen will spend the night tonight in Admiralty with students who have been demonstrating for democracy and have occupied for the past ten days some of the city's more central streets.

"I am with them, in the streets with them," the prelate told AsiaNews. "I have already spent two or three nights sleeping with them. starting tonight I shall be here every night until we are either dispersed or arrested."

The peaceful sit-in could still end in violence. In recent days, police have attacked students with tear gas, pepper spray, batons, and hired triad thugs who have injured scores of protesters.

Right now, "the great danger" is for "things to drag on" with the government promising talks to no end, trying to divide students from the Occupy Central movement.

To stop the sit-in in Admiralty, the government has promised to talk. Card Zen does not mince words, "I do not believe it. The government is playing games. On the one hand, it agrees to talks; on the other hand, it says we cannot overturn Beijing's decisions. This means that the outcome to the talks has already been decided."

"We say that they misinformed Beijing. The government made a mistake and manipulated the first consultation on the desire for democracy among the people of Hong Kong. Now they want to carry out a second consultation. We say instead that we have to go back to the first one, which was all wrong."

"In their report on democracy in Hong Kong, presented to Beijing, they did not mention the great referendum, nor the big marches in the territory. They downplayed them."

Looming over the whole thing is the danger of division. The government says it wants to negotiate with the Federation of Students, forgetting that another student group, Scholarism, and Occupy Central, headed by law professor Benny Tai, Pastor Chu Yiu ming, and sociology professor Chan Kin-man, played a crucial role.

The government's "call for talks was addressed to only one of two student organisations that demonstrated," Hong Kong's bishop emeritus said. "In fact, three organisations were involved in the demonstration."

"Why were the three Occupy leaders not invited? After all, they did all the planning, mobilising people for weeks. It is clear that the government is trying to divide us. Unfortunately, young people are falling into the trap of thinking that they are the leaders of everything. They are not listening," he said.

For the cardinal and Occupy Central, it is better to pull back after ten days of sit-in and plan for future battles. However, the students claim the right to continue the strike and this could prove counterproductive.

"Unfortunately, these young people want to take the lead and do not listen to others. And this is also unfair because the success belongs to all the people, not just the students."

"Certainly, they did smart things. They were very decisive. But all the people participated. Students are forgetting that they were backed by the people who took to the streets. And now they want to run the show."

"So far, I have tried to reason with them, without success," Card Zen went on to say. "At present, a coalition of all pro-democracy movements might come into being. However, if that does not work, I am going to speak against the students. For now, I am with them, in the square with them."

Card Zen wants students to pull back from the sit-in because the latter might generate more violence against them. "As time goes by," he said, "gangs of thugs are more likely to attack us again. People are also tired and children have to go back to school."

"We are pulling back," he said, "but this is not a defeat. In fact, it is a victory. What victory? A double victory because we obtained the support of the people and forced Beijing to show its true face."

Bao Tong, a former adviser to Zhao Ziyang, who opposed the Tiananmen Square crackdown, is still under house arrest, yet he spoke out. "You won in the first place because you allowed people to express itself on democracy," he said. "You won because you forced Beijing to show its true face. Now it is better to pull back, rest for a while and prepare for a new battle."

Unfortunately, falling into the government's trap, now "everyone seems to want to do their own thing."

"The great merit of Catholics is that of helping everyone to be united. With the referendum, we made proposals that brought together different positions. Even now, I am pushing to create a democratic coalition, so that we are not weak vis-à-vis the government."

"Someone said: Let young people lead us. This is unfair because Occupy Central has already worked for years for democracy. Anyway, I think it is slowly emerging that we need to remain united." (BC)

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