Occupy Central leaders have urged protesters in the Chinese-controlled city to retreat a day after activists clashed with police and forced the temporary closure of a government headquarters.
“As we prepare to surrender, we three urge the students to retreat, to put down deep roots in the community and transform the movement,” said Occupy Central leader Benny Tai at a press conference on Tuesday.
He said the trio would surrender to police on Wednesday in a commitment to the rule of law and “the principle of peace and love”.
“Surrendering is not an act of cowardice. It is the courage to act on a promise. To surrender is not to fail, it is a silent denunciation of a heartless government,” Tai said.
He praised the bravery of frontline occupiers and criticised the police as “out of control”, saying it was time for protesters to leave “this dangerous place”.
“The decision was surprising for many. It was a highly emotional press conference,” Al Jazeera’s Sarah Clarke, reporting from Hong Kong, said.
“The leaders say that they cannot guarantee the safety of the people who remain on the streets after the recent out of control police crackdown ordered by, what they say, a heartless government,” she also said.
“However, they say that they will respect the decision of the protesters who want to continue with protests and stay in central Hong Kong,” our correspondent added.
Tai, Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-ming founded the Occupy Central civil disobedience group in early 2013 to push for political reforms, but have increasingly taken a backseat as more hardliner student groups came to the fore.
Meanwhile, some other Hong Kong protesters, who are on hunger strike, said on Tuesday that they want to force the government into further talks for reforms.
Student leader Joshua Wong on Tuesday urged pro-democracy protesters to regroup in the heart of the city, less than a day after he announced he would go on hunger strike to demand electoral reform.
Wong, 18, also demanded the Hong Kong government to resume dialogue with students.
“We are hoping that after the hunger strike we have a chance to speak with government officials openly, then there will be a chance to solve this Hong Kong problem,” 18-year-old Wong told reporters.
Both announcements came after hundreds of pro-democracy protesters clashed with police late on Sunday, leaving dozens injured, in one of the worst nights of violence since rallies began over two months ago.