Protesters in Hong Kong have cleared part of a highway blocked by demonstrators since Monday as a gesture of goodwill, as political unrest paralysed the city for a fifth day in a row.
At a 3am press conference demonstrators at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, one of the main battlegrounds of the last week, said they would reopen the Tolo highway, a major traffic artery, outside of the school.
Protesters said they were giving the government until 6pm on Friday to promise that local district elections scheduled for 24 November would continue. Some believe the government is angling to postpone or cancel the elections in expectation of major losses to pro-establishment candidates.
“We are the powerless and they are the ones in power. We have no bargaining chip besides this one single bridge,” a demonstrator said, referring to a bridge occupied by protesters that overlooks the highway.
“The blockade of Tolo highway has brought inconvenience to residents ... so we hope to offer a friendly gesture. Our target is the government, not Hong Kong residents,” one of the protesters said.
Hong Kong has had one of the most violent weeks since anti-government protests began in June, initially over a now-scrapped extradition bill that would send suspects to mainland China.
Tensions reached a new peak after the death of a demonstrator one week ago. In the days after, police shot a 21-year student on live broadcast and a 57-year-old man was lit on fire during an argument with demonstrators. On Thursday a 70-year-old cleaner died after being hit by brick during a fight between protesters and residents.
International concern over Beijing’s response has increased. On Thursday a US congressional advisory body called on lawmakers to enact legislation that would strip Hong Kong of its special economic status granted under US law if the Chinese military were deployed to crush the protests. The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said in an annual report issued that the US “must plan for worst-case scenarios, while trying to achieve the best ones”.
In London, Hong Kong’s justice minister Teresa Cheng claimed to have been injured by protesters when attending an event on Thursday. Video showed protesters surrounding and yelling “Shame on you” at the cabinet official who was seen falling.
On Friday the city faced another day of severe traffic disruptions after a night of clashes and schools remained closed. The Hong Kong government has not yet responded to protesters’ demands. A statement from the government in the morning said both sides of the Tolo highway were still being cleared and the road had not been reopened.
Late on Thursday Chinese state media issued an editorial saying “Hong Kong universities are not outside the law” and accused opposition forces in Hong Kong and abroad of “brainwashing students” and “sowing anti-China chaos”. Earlier the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, in his first public remarks on the crisis, said Hong Kong must “restore order” and punish “violent criminals”.