Hong Kong protesters regroup after government rejects talks

KONFRONTASI-Hundreds of protesters regrouped in central Hong Kong on Friday to push their call for democracy, a day after the government called off talks with students amid a two-week standoff that has shaken communist China's capitalist hub.

Scores arrived with tents, suggesting they were in for the long haul despite a call by police to remove obstacles that have blocked major roads in and out of the financial centre, causing traffic and commuter chaos with tail-backs stretching for miles.

Police said they would take action at an appropriate time, without specifying what.

"I've just set up camp here under the bridge and I will come down to occupy whenever I can," said Wong Lai-wa, 23. "I may have to go back to school during the day, but I will make every effort to come back."

The protesters are well equipped to sit it out, with supply stations stocked with essentials such as water, biscuits, noodles and cereals. They also have makeshift showers and dozens of tents already pitched where they can sleep.

The government's decision to call off the talks with students on Thursday came as democratic lawmakers demanded anti-graft officers investigate a $6.4 million business payout to the city's pro-Beijing leader, Leung Chun-ying, while in office.

Australia's Fairfax Media this week revealed the business payout to Leung by an Australian engineering company.

"For sure it will be jam packed with people later today in Admiralty after people get off work and students finish school," said Joshua Wong, a 17-year-old who heads the group Scholarism that represents secondary school pupils.

Admiralty is home to government offices next to the Central business district, giving the name to the "Occupy Central" movement, which has combined with the student protests to try to push the government to introduce universal suffrage.

China rules the former British colony through a "one country, two systems" formula which allows wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland and specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal.

But Beijing ruled in August it would screen candidates who want to run for the city's election for a chief executive in 2017, which democracy activists said rendered the notion of universal suffrage meaningless.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said the talks with the students were off because of the strident demands for universal suffrage, which she said was not in accordance with the city's mini-constitution, and because of their "illegal" occupation of parts of the city and calls for people to rally.[mr/reuters]