Hong Kong protest numbers dwindle as talks make slow progress

 Small knots of pro-democracy demonstrators remained on Hong Kong`s streets Tuesday after protest leaders agreed to talks with the government and some students returned to school to study for exams.

Hong Kong: Small knots of pro-democracy demonstrators remained on Hong Kong`s streets Tuesday after protest leaders agreed to talks with the government and some students returned to school to study for exams.

Talks between the government and student leaders are progressing at a snail`s pace, although even protest leaders are now acutely worried that further disruption could alienate supporters.

The mass protests for fully free elections have brought parts of the city to a standstill for more than a week, and while many in the city remain supportive of the movement, they also want to resume their daily lives.

A second round of "preparatory talks" was held late Monday night in a bid to set conditions for formal negotiations. 

Students had already agreed to talks with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam but called them off on Friday after what they described as "organised attacks" on protesters at the Mong Kok demonstration site.

"We will have multiple rounds of negotiation," said Lester Shum late Monday, deputy secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS).

Tuesday saw another day of traffic mayhem, with diversions still in place causing nose-to-tail jams and commuter frustration, truncated bus routes and the reopening of primary schools adding to the chaos. 

The few protesters that remain are still determined to make their point -- although they are unsure of the result. 

"To be honest, I don`t have confidence that we can succeed. But whether we succeed or not, I am giving my best. I also learned that we can speak out when it is needed," said Dickson Yeung, 20, who works as a customer relations officer.

"I still have hopes that we can achieve our goal of having true democracy," said May Lim, a 19-year-old university student, who has been protesting at the Admiralty site for a week.

But she added that she would have to return to classes to work for exams.

"I skipped classes completely last week. Except resting for a day or two, I have been staying here all day long. But this week I am going to classes. Mid-term tests are coming," she said.Numbers of demonstrators had grown since early morning but remained low at the protest sites as well as outside the central government offices. 

A cabinet meeting due to be held Tuesday at the government complex was relocated, although workers there were moving freely in and out.

The opening of the city`s de-facto parliament scheduled for Wednesday was also postponed to next week.

"I am not assured that there is a quiet and safe environment in the surroundings for a meeting to be held," Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang said.

"We do not easily change meeting schedules. It is a very special situation at an extraordinary time." 

A four-day environment symposium which was to gather 11 Nobel laureates in Hong Kong from Wednesday, was also scrapped due to "sustained disruptions in the city".

While some commuters have voiced irritation at their disrupted journeys to work, others are taking advantage of highways which have been temporarily pedestrianised by the protests -- some office workers enjoyed al fresco lunches on the road on a sunny afternoon Tuesday.

"It`s a refreshing change from the usually chaotic traffic," said a telecoms worker who identified himself as Lars and has lived in Hong Kong for six years.

"I`m trying to make the most of the traffic-free road while it lasts."

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