Hong Kong—Hong Kong student leaders on Thursday announced a two-week boycott of lectures from the upcoming start of term, as they seek to keep protesters on the streets and pressure on the government.
The financial hub has been rocked by three months of unrest, with students making up a large number of the pro-democracy protesters taking to the streets almost daily.
Student leaders representing most of the city’s major universities said students will miss lectures between Sept. 2—the planned start of the new term—and Sept. 13.
They threatened further action if the government does not adequately respond to the protesters’ five demands, which include spiking a controversial extradition bill, universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into alleged police abuses during the protests.
“Two weeks should be enough for the government to really think through how to respond,” said Davin Wong, acting president of the Hong Kong University Students’ Union.
“As the situation has gotten more intense, we believe the social situation will bring more students into the boycott.”
Wong said students will be encouraged to take time to “understand what happened in our society... what we can do for our city’s future.”
Students have featured prominently in the weeks of protests that have rocked Hong Kong.
The demonstrations were sparked by an attempt by the city’s government to bring in a bill that would have allowed for extradition to China.
But they quickly morphed into a wider pro-democracy campaign, in a city where young people are boxed in by the soaring cost of living and worsening job prospects.
In Beijing, China’s state-run media have launched a coordinated attack on the company that runs Hong Kong’s train network for its perceived support of pro-democracy protesters, echoing a campaign against Cathay Pacific.
As hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the financial hub approach their third month of rallying around democratic reforms, Beijing has upped its rhetoric against the movement—and any organization appearing to support it.
On Thursday, Chinese state-backed outlets accused Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway company of abetting protesters by offering them a free and “exclusive” train to escape police, after a sit-in to mark a mob attack by suspected triad gang members one month earlier.
“MTR operates exclusive train for violent protesters in Hong Kong, and free of charge,” tweeted Chinese official news agency Xinhua in English.
Instead of cooperating with the police, the Hong Kong railway system helped protesters “escape,” wrote the nationalist Global Times in a Chinese-language op-ed.
The MTR “is telling Hong Kong society that radical demonstrators who have committed violent acts not only can avoid arrest by police but are ultimately able to enjoy free, special treatment,” the paper added.
But the MTR Corporation—which the Hong Kong government remains a majority stakeholder in—said in a Thursday statement that the trains were meant to help stranded passengers.
To ensure the safety of travellers and staff, the MTR company said it had arranged for trains with passengers on board to avoid stopping at stations where there were “police actions to disperse the crowds.”
Empty trains, however, were also dispatched to pick up individuals who “might wish to leave stations as soon as possible,” read the statement, which also condemned the vandalism of metro stops by some demonstrators.
The city’s MTR Corporation is the latest company to feel the heat from Beijing’s hardening rhetoric over more than two months of anti-government protests that have plunged Hong Kong into crisis.
Last week, Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific announced the shock resignation of its CEO after the carrier was excoriated by Beijing because some staff supported pro-democracy protests.
During a general strike earlier this month, some of Cathay’s 27,000-strong workforce joined in, including the union representing the airline’s flight attendants.
China reacted swiftly, with the country’s aviation regulator demanding the airline prevent such staff from working on flights to the mainland or those routed through Chinese airspace.
State media also wrote a series of condemnations of Cathay, accusing it of not doing enough to rein in its workers.
“The four sins of Cathay Pacific Airlines,” read one headline by the People’s Daily, the main mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party.
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