Hong Kong: Student-led protests for democratic reforms in Hong Kong shrank on Monday but a few hundred demonstrators remained camped out in the streets, vowing to keep up the pressure until the government responds to their demands.
Schools reopened and civil servants returned to work today morning after protesters cleared the area outside the city's government headquarters, a focal point of the demonstrations that started the previous weekend. Crowds also thinned markedly at the two other protest sites, and traffic flowed again through many roads that had been blocked.
The subdued scenes left many wondering whether the movement, which has been free-forming and largely spontaneous, had run its course or whether the students have a clear strategy about what to do next.
Early talks between the government and the students have started, but many disagreements remain. Students say they will walk away from the talks as soon as the government uses force to clear away the remaining protesters.
"This is definitely not the end we've never set a timeframe for how long this should go on. It's normal for people to go home, to come and go," said Alex Chow, one of the student leaders. "It's up to the government now. This is the first step, but the pressure has to continue."
Hong Kong has been rocked by a massive weeklong street protest against China's decision to screen all nominees in the first direct elections for Hong Kong's leader, promised by Beijing for 2017. The activists want open nominations and the resignation of the current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, who has refused to step down.
The previous weekend, police fired tear gas and pepper spray on unarmed protesters, prompting some to defend themselves with umbrellas and homemade masks an image that gave rise to the movement's unofficial name, the "Umbrella Movement." The police violence galvanized public support for the demonstrations, and on both weekends, tens of thousands of protesters had turned out in the streets.
But the numbers were down today to just a couple hundred in the main protest site of Admiralty and in the Mong Kok area, where some scuffles broke out over the weekend between protests and residents. About 25 protesters, mostly students, refused to budge from their site outside the government headquarters, and some say they plan to stay for as long as they can.
Many remaining protesters were undeterred by the dwindling number of participants, but they admitted they cannot afford to neglect their studies for much longer.
"I think the government is waiting for us to get up. They always say the protests must end and are trying to use violence to stop it," said Jackie Ho, 18. "But I think they just want to scare us."