Hong Kong’s leader is ready to participate in talks with pro-democracy protesters, the city’s embattled Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said Thursday.
The announcement is a potential breakthrough in a bitter standoff between the semiautonmous territory’s Beijing-backed authorities and student-led groups who have been taking part in protests that have rocked the city for nearly three weeks.
“As long as students or other sectors in Hong Kong are prepared to focus on this issue, yes we are ready, we are prepared to start the dialogue,” Leung told reporters in Hong Kong.
“This is why over the past few days … we expressed the wish to students that we’d like to start the dialogue to discuss universal suffrage as soon as we can, and hopefully within the following week,” he said.
Since Sept. 28, thousands of Hong Kong residents have been involved in acts of civil disobedience in a bid to pressure Beijing to overturn its decision to screen candidates in 2017 elections. They want Leung to resign as well as genuine democratic reforms.
It was not immediately clear how the announcement would affect the situation as Leung has already made it clear he doesn’t think Beijing’s decision can be changed. He has also already ruled out some of the student’s key demands.
Student leaders have yet to formally respond to the offer for talks.
Over the last few days tensions have escalated between Hong Kong’s government and protesters as police have taken a harder line on clearing activists from some streets they have been occupying.