World and Nation

Hong Kong leader open to talks with protesters

HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s leader said Thursday that the city government hoped to meet with student protest leaders as soon as possible, as authorities struggled to remove pro-democracy demonstrators who have occupied some of the city’s most important thoroughfares for nearly three weeks.

But Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, said he was in no position to offer concessions to the protesters who are demanding democratic elections, leaving unclear how he intends to resolve the territory’s worst political crisis since China regained sovereignty from Britain 17 years ago.

“First, we can’t make something unconstitutional constitutional,” he said, citing as an example the main demand by protesters to give voters the right to nominate his successor.

Leung said that it was Beijing, and not he, who had the power to amend or overturn the Chinese national legislature’s framework for Hong Kong elections in 2017, which had angered democracy advocates.

In August, the Chinese legislature issued a proposal requiring that candidates for the post of Hong Kong chief executive be vetted by a group dominated by pro-Beijing interests. The decision led to a series of protests, student strikes and the “Occupy” demonstrations.

Leung said it was “not up to the Hong Kong government, but the central government” that the Chinese legislature would not retract its decision.

Last week, the Hong Kong government delayed the talks with student leaders over how far the electoral overhaul promised by Beijing could go.

Negotiations are further complicated by the authorities’ efforts to clear the protesters’ roadblocks to reopen traffic. Early Wednesday, hundreds of protesters retaliated by blocking a road in front of the chief executive’s office.

A protester at that site was apparently beaten by several police officers for about four minutes, drawing a larger turnout Wednesday night.

Infuriated by the beating, which was shown on television, the protesters attempted to blockade more streets Thursday. Kong Man-keung, a senior police superintendent, told reporters on Thursday afternoon that seven police officers said to be involved in the beating had been identified and suspended. He said the alleged victim, Ken Tsang, resisted arrest after he poured an unidentified liquid on several police officers.

Tsang, who has been identified as a member of the pro-democracy Civic Party, is now facing charges of assaulting the police, unlawful assembly and obstructing the police, Kong said.