Staring down the student demonstrators who had demanded he resign by the end of the day Thursday, Hong Kong’s chief executive told a late-night news conference that his government was willing to talk with the protesters, but that he had no intention of quitting.
It was a tough signal, reflecting Beijing’s unyielding stance in the face of pro-democracy protests that have roiled Hong Kong all week, but the promise to hold talks, however limited they might be in scope, appeared to be enough to blunt the protest leaders’ determination to act.
The protesters had threatened to occupy government buildings if Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying refused to step down by midnight, but by early Friday, in the face of disagreement among themselves and a show of force by police, they had refrained from escalating the conflict.
In a minor but perhaps telling incident, rifts among protesters carried over into early Friday as they scuffled over a plan to block traffic on one of the only main roads still connecting Hong Kong’s Central district, a key business hub, to areas further east on the island.
Tensions had been building all day and into the evening Thursday, as China made it clear that it would not compromise. In Beijing, the People’s Daily newspaper warned against “chaos” in Hong Kong, and, as the official mouthpiece of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, it offered a full endorsement of Leung.