Hong Kong’s student leaders say they will decide in the coming days whether to leave protest sites they have occupied for more than two months, following violent clashes.
The rallies for fully free leadership elections drew tens of thousands at their height, but numbers have dwindled as public support for the movement has waned.
One prominent protest leader said on Thursday the students would decide “within a week” whether to leave two remaining camps in the centre of the southern Chinese city after authorities cleared a third last week.
Their announcement came after the three leaders of protest group Occupy Central handed themselves in to police Wednesday in a symbolic move to get demonstrators off the streets, after violent confrontations with police outside government headquarters at the weekend.
China insists that candidates for the vote for chief executive in 2017 must be vetted by a loyalist committee, which demonstrators say will ensure the election of a pro-Beijing stooge.
Student protest leaders have remained adamant that staying on the streets is their only option to force reform.
But they said Thursday that the decision to retreat was now an option.
“There needs to be a decision that is made about whether to leave or stay,” said Yvonne Leung, of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, which has spearheaded the mass street protests.
“Within a week’s time, we definitely will have to have a decision,” she told local radio.
Leung said the main reason for considering retreat was police violence at Sunday’s clashes, which left dozens injured, including police officers, as well as public pressure for protesters to leave.
Protesters poured onto the streets on September 28 demanding political reforms, blocking three major junctions across the financial hub.
One site has since been cleared by police, but the main camp outside government headquarters in central Hong Kong still blocks a long stretch of a multi-lane highway.
A third smaller site blocks a busy road in the Causeway Bay shopping district.