Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The three founding leaders of Occupy Central have decided to surrender tomorrow at 3 pm to Hong Kong police, assuming responsibility for the acts of civil disobedience that led to the occupation of public spaces.
Other important supporters, like Catholic Cardinal and bishop emeritus of Hong Kong Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, will join them tomorrow. The prelate had pledged to surrender as well, to express his closeness to the movement and the students.
Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Rev Chu Yiu-ming and Dr Chan Kin-man (pictured) announced their plan to surrender at a press conference today. "We don't know what will happen after we hand ourselves in, whether we will be detained or released, but we are prepared for the consequences," Tai said.
Tai also said the leaders want students to pull back from protest sites, which have crippled parts of the city for more than two months, urging them to continue the struggle for democracy by other, more fruitful means.
Tai, Chan and Chu are co-founders of the Occupy movement. For some years, they have tried to raise public awareness about the value of democracy. To this end, they organised a referendum in June that saw the participation of 800,000 voters.
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has downplayed Occupy's influence. In a report to mainland authorities, he cited neither the movement nor its referendum.
Occupy has always called for direct elections to the post of Chief Executive based on universal suffrage.
Last August, Beijing came up with a proposal that included universal suffrage but limited voters' choice to a candidates preselected by a committee controlled by Beijing.
In the wake of this decision, Occupy leaders urged people to come out to protest and at least 10,000 heeded the call to civil disobedience and the occupation of key sections of Hong Kong's business district.
The goal was to stage a protest on 1 October. However, the Scholarism movement (which represents high school students), and the Hong Kong University Student Federation came out ahead of time and occupied the Admiralty and Mong Kok.
The Occupy movement initially expected the occupation to last a few days. Instead, students have kept it going to this day.
For Occupy leaders, the occupation has to be based on peaceful non-violence. However, in recent weeks, police provocation has led to clashes between security forces and the more radicalised students.
In order to save the movement from drifting towards violence, the three leaders want to end the occupation and develop new forms of struggle for democracy. This would spare students further frustrations, generate by the lack of talks with the authorities over the past two months because of the intransigence of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.
"Surrendering to the police is not a sign of cowardice. It shows our courage to honour our commitment," the Occupy leaders said in a letter.
All three "urge students to retreat to put down deep roots in the community and transform the movement to extend the spirit of the umbrella movement," Tai said. "When violence erupts, it is time to consider the transformation of the movement".
The three leaders blame the government for the outbreak of violence because of its failure to meet the students' genuine demands vis-à-vis the election process.
However, the move by the Occupy co-founders is out of step with the Federation of Students, who this week called for an escalation of protests.
In addition, Joshua Wong, the 18-year-old leader of protest group Scholarism, announced last night that he and two others are going on a hunger strike to press the city government to restart dialogue with the students over political reform.
"We are not abandoning the occupiers," Benny Tai said during a press conference. "We are urging them to understand the fight for democracy is a long one and we need energy to fight on".
In fact, even though he called for an end to the current sit-ins, "The message to the Hong Kong government is clear: even if you clear the occupied sites, you can't clear people's demands for democracy".