Hong Kong leader extends olive branch to democracy protesters

Hong Kong`s embattled leader Tuesday said he was open to creating a more democratic committee to vet his successor before elections in 2017, extending a potential olive branch to democracy protesters as crunch talks to end weeks of disruptive rallies got underway.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong`s embattled leader Tuesday said he was open to creating a more democratic committee to vet his successor before elections in 2017, extending a potential olive branch to democracy protesters as crunch talks to end weeks of disruptive rallies got underway.

Parts of the Asian financial hub have been paralysed by demonstrations calling for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to resign and for China to revoke an August ruling that candidates for the city`s next election be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee -- something protesters have called a "fake democracy".

In an interview Tuesday afternoon with AFP and other newswires, Leung said that while Beijing would not back down on vetting his successor, the committee tasked with selecting those candidates could become "more democratic".

"There is room for discussion there, there`s room to make the nominating committee more democratic and this is one of the things we`d very much like to talk to not just the students but the community at large about," he said.

The offer is still a long way from meeting the core demands of protesters who say anything other than public nomination of candidates is unacceptable.

But Leung`s comments are the first indication of a potential negotiating point as talks got underway Tuesday between senior government officials and students leaders at a nearby medical college.

A failure by both sides to reach some sort of compromise could see weeks of further political chaos in a city once renowned for stability and a resumption of violent confrontations between police and protesters after two days of calm.

Leung is not attending the discussions after students refused to talk to him, but he said he would be watching them on a live link. Leung gave no details on how the committee could become more representative but said details could be hammered out during a second consultation period on political reform over the next few months.

He came to power in 2012 after winning 689 votes of a 1,200 strong committee made up of representatives from key Hong Kong sectors such as agriculture, religion, the legal profession and the city`s powerful business community. Members of that committee were themselves voted in by a panel of around 250,000 people.

Analysts have previously suggested that the 1,200 member committee could be expanded to create a more representative body without upsetting Beijing and Leung.

The 60-year-old leader -- painted by demonstrators as stooge of China`s Communist Party -- spoke to foreign news agencies at his government offices that are currently surrounded on two sides by a protest camp.

He has been forced to largely run his government from his palatial home in an upmarket residential area of the city because of the protesters camped outside the government buildings

Leung insisted his administration remained in charge of dealing with the ongoing protests, after repeated speculation Beijing was really calling the shots.

"We don`t have any instructions from Beijing, or suggestions, as to when or who we clear the streets," he said, adding he did not feel the need to speak to his political masters on the mainland on a daily basis.

He warned police could move on the barricades at any time -- even with talks going on -- because patience among many locals was running out and some were "taking the law into their own hands".

"While the police have exercised tolerance, patience and restraint we have concerns that people may not," he said.

Over the last three weeks, protester camps have occasionally been attacked by government loyalist thugs while some taxi and haulage associations have threatened to take their own action against protesters barricades if they continue to block at key intersections.

Previous attempts by police to remove barricades have sparked violent scuffles.

On Monday Leung also accused "external forces" of being behind the ongoing protests without specifying details. The comments echoed similar remarks by officials and state media in Beijing.

Asked Tuesday why he was unwilling to give any evidence to back his allegations, he countered: "No government will give you details about what they know about the participation of foreign or external forces."

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