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Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest leaders have set conditions to resume talks, potentially paving the way to end the demonstrations that have extended into a fifth week.

The government should submit a report to China reflecting their demand for free elections in the city in order for the talks to be “fruitful," the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the leading groups behind the movement, said in an open letter on Tuesday. Failing which protest leaders would like to meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, it added.

The letter to Hong Kong chief secretary Carrie Lam marks an attempt by student leaders to regain control after they shelved a referendum set for last weekend on the movement’s future. Talks with the government on 21 October failed to yield an immediate solution, with the city’s No. 2 official offering to send Beijing a report on the demonstrators’ demands.

“We think the government’s proposal to submit a report to the State Council about people’s reaction is an attempt to step forward," Alex Chow, the secretary general of the federation, told reporters. The students want to “explain the real situation in Hong Kong" to Li if the government can’t, he said.

China statement

China has shown no signs of budging. Shortly after the students issued their open letter, the nation pledged to prevent “external interference" in Hong Kong’s affairs and to defend the one-China principle, according to a Xinhua News Agency report citing a statement issued after the Communist Party’s fourth plenum meeting.

Separately, Radio Television Hong Kong cited people it didn’t identify as saying that the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference will remove Hong Kong delegate James Tien. Tien, who heads Hong Kong’s Liberal Party, has called for city chief executive Leung Chun-ying to consider resigning.

The statements from the student and the plenum came as hundreds gathered at the main protest site at Harcourt Road in Hong Kong’s Admiralty district to mark the one month since police used tear gas in a failed attempt to disperse protesters on 28 September.

At 5:57 pm local time, supporters raised umbrellas in 87 seconds of silence. Protest leaders on stage said each second was for every tear gas cannister used that evening. Organizers screened videos that highlighted the month’s activities, with supporters raising their phones in illumination.

Biggest challenge

The protests have become the biggest challenge to China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong since it took over control in 1997. Demonstrators took to the streets after China decided on 31 August to vet candidates for the city’s 2017 leadership election through a nominating committee, angering activists who say the ruling favors pro-Beijing candidates.

The Hong Kong government has said civic nomination is against the Basic Law, the city’s constitution that provides for a 1,200-person nominating committee to screen candidates.

The government should include in the report a demand for the reversal of the 31 August decision, the student federation said. It should also set up a platform to discuss reforms such as allowing for civic nomination and direct elections to the city’s lawmaker body, the federation said. Bloomberg

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