by Chris Johnston, The Guardian
China has stopped three leaders of Hong Kong’s democracy protests from travelling to Beijing, where they had planned to voice their call for free elections to Chinese authorities.
Cathay Pacific airline staff at Hong Kong’s airport told Nathan Law, Eason Chung and Alex Chow of the Hong Kong Federation of Students that the Chinese govermnent had cancelled their travel permits and refused to issue them with boarding passes for their flight to Beijing. .
Travel permits allow Hong Kong residents to travel freely in mainland China, but some of the city’s pro-democracy figures have been denied access in the past.
“Dialogue is important for resolving the current [situation], but it depends on whether Beijing has the initiative to open talks with students,” Chow said before being turned back.
An editorial in the Saturday edition of the English language Global Times, which is run by the Communist party, said the students’ travel plans were little more than a publicity stunt.
“These activists may be too naive,” the paper said. “Do they really know who they are and whom they can represent? How can they meet whomever they want in Beijing?”
Protesters have occupied key areas of Hong Kong for more than six weeks, causing gridlock in parts of the financial centre, to demand free elections for the city’s leader in 2017. The protests drew more than 100,000 people at their peak, but the number has fallen more recently to the hundreds.
Beijing has declared the protests illegal and said law and order must be maintained in the Chinese-controlled city, where thousands of police have used teargas to maintain control.
China insists that potential candidates must be vetted by a loyalist committee, a decision critics say will ensure the election of a pro-Beijing representative.
About 300 supporters of the three leaders, some with yellow umbrellas, which have become a symbol of the democracy movement, went to Hong Kong airport to express their support. Some carried banners with pro-democracy messages including “we want real elections”.
The students had previously asked the Hong Kong government’s second-in-command and its former leader Tung Chee-hwa to arrange a meeting with China’s premier, Li Keqiang, and other officials, but their requests were ignored.