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Hong Kong cancels protest talks


People walk to work in the occupied areas at Central district in Hong Kong (AP)

People walk to work in the occupied areas at Central district in Hong Kong (AP)

People walk to work in the occupied areas at Central district in Hong Kong (AP)

Talks with student leaders of a democracy protest that has blocked main roads in Hong Kong for nearly two weeks are off because they are unlikely to be constructive, a senior Hong Kong government official said.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said that the talks scheduled for Friday will not go ahead because they have been "seriously undermined" by remarks from the student leaders.

Her announcement came hours after student leaders called for supporters to redouble their efforts to occupy the main protest zone - a highway outside government headquarters that they are now dubbing Umbrella Square.

Thousands of protesters have occupied the thoroughfare since September 28, when police used tear gas in a failed attempt to disperse the crowd.

However, the number of demonstrators has dwindled sharply this week.

"I truly regret that we will not be able to have a meeting tomorrow which will produce any constructive outcome," Ms Lam said.

The protesters are demanding the government of the specially administered Chinese region abandon plans to allow Beijing to screen candidates for the city's inaugural elections for its leader in 2017.

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They also want the current Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, to resign.

The government's announcement was greeted with little more than sneers by protesters.

"Two days ago they wanted to talk, now they won't talk," said Candice Heung, a university administrator who often joins the protest after work and believes the government is dragging out the confrontation. "This doesn't matter at all."

The reality, she said, is the government has no interest in sitting down with the students.

"They don't want to talk," she said.

Both sides accused each other of being insincere, a sign of the frustrations over the vast differences between the government's position and that of the students.

The government was unlikely to give in to the students' demands and had instead proposed focusing the talks on legal technicalities. That angered student leaders and raised fears that the government was using it as a delaying tactic to dodge their demands.

Hong Kong students have been asking for dialogue with the government since they walked out of classes on September 22 to press their demands, said Alex Chow of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of three groups co-ordinating the protests.

"During those days we gave our sweat and our blood, we faced tear gas and some of us were arrested and we may face imprisonment in the future," Mr Chow said.

"Even now, we are open to talks with the government any time. They've shown they have no sincerity to shoulder their responsibility of facing the concerns of the Hong Kong people."

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