Launching a new wave in the fight for "true democracy," thousands of Hong Kong university students kicked off a week-long boycott of classes on Monday with a mass sit-in and rally protesting what they say is the further colonization of the city by the country's elites.
"How can a few people decide Hong Kong's future? Why not seven million of Hong Kong's people?" Alex Chow, the general secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said before the crowd. On August 31, the Beijing government ruled that for Hong Kong's 2017 election—the first in which the region's chief executive will be elected by voters—candidates must be approved by a mostly pro-establishment nominating committee.
According to reporters, students from over 20 universities across Hong Kong converged on the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where they were greeted by a banners that read: "The boycott must happen. Disobey and grasp your destiny."
"Resist colonial [rule], say no to screening! Self-determination for Hong Kongers!" the crowd chanted, reported the South China Morning Post.
According to the SCMP, student leader Lester Shum told the crowd that the youth boycott would usher in a new wave in civil disobedience against what he said was the "colonization" of Hong Kong by Beijing.
"In the colonial days, the British ruled Hong Kong as if they were a group of refugees and obedient subjects," Shum said. "On August 31, [Beijing's] decision would allow the central government and [tycoons] to continue to manipulate the election. Isn't that applying the colonial [approach] to Hong Kong?"
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Organizers estimate that 13,000 people took part in the rally and hundreds of university staff are also supporting the student-led week of protest, signing a petition pledging their "staunchest support and protection".
The students, who on Monday wore mostly white and donned yellow ribbons, are joining a movement that for months has been calling for a more open electoral process. Their boycott comes less than one week after thousands of activists staged a silent march through the business district of Hong Kong.
On Tuesday, the protest will move to Tamar Park, next to government headquarters, where a number of scholars backing the campaign are expected to deliver lectures on topics ranging from democracy to cultural studies.
The actions are a prelude to a larger protest on October 1, which is being organized by the group Occupy Central—an Occupy Wall Street offshoot which is named after Hong Kong's Central business district.
The protest can be followed on Twitter under the hashtag #hkclassboycott.