Thousands of protesters joined the budding pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong during a national holiday on Wednesday, promising to storm government buildings if the territory’s leader doesn’t resign by the end of Thursday.
“Leung Chun-ying must step down. If he doesn’t resign by tomorrow we will step up our actions, such as by occupying several important government buildings,” said Hong Kong Federation of Students Vice Secretary Lester Shum, according to the Associated Press. Protesters are mobilizing to demand freer elections for the territory.
The U.S. made a statement on Tuesday in support of the protesters, after nearly 200,000 signed a petition asking the White House to support the protests.
“The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law and we support the aspirations of the Hong Kong people,” the White House wrote. “We have consistently made our position known to Beijing, and we will continue to do so.”
Hong Kong’s authorities have been waiting out protesters since Sunday, when police attempted to suppress the movement with force and tear gas only to see the movement galvanize against the brutality as protesters shielded themselves with umbrellas, earning the nickname the “Umbrella Revolution.”
Beijing wants to avoid another Tiananmen Square-style crackdown, but the police are unlikely to allow hospitals and government offices to be occupied.
The protest has grown as the authorities try to wait it out. With businesses and schools closed for a two-day holiday Wednesday and Thursday, thousands joined the movement and a fourth protest site was formed in a shopping district, the BBC reported. In addition, a source close to Leung said that the city may be bracing to let the protesters stay for weeks, according to a Reuters report.
The U.K. returned the territory to China in 1997. At the time, it was determined that they’d appoint an executive to rule for a decade and, in 2017, the territory would elect its own leader. When China said they’d would be vetting candidates for the election, residents feared they weren’t actually getting the free elections they’d been promised. As a result, protesters took to the streets on Friday.
But chief executive Leung Chun-ying has made no indication that Beijing will allow for the freer elections the protesters demand. In his Wednesday public speech to honor the national holiday, he reminded Hong Kong of its “one country, two systems” deal, an assumed rebuke of the protesters who demanding more autonomy, according to the BBC.
An op-ed in China’s People’s Daily — the Communist Party’s newspaper — hinted that China’s patience won’t last forever, when they wrote they “support the Hong Kong police’s decisive law enforcement, to restore social order in Hong Kong as soon as possible,” according to The New York Times.
China has so far left Leung to handle the situation, though the movement’s student organizers have invited Chinese government officials to intervene.
“However, we ask them to come to the square and speak to the masses,” Lester Shum, a spokesman for Hong Kong Federation of Students, said, according to the Associated Press. “This is a movement of Hong Kongers and not led by any specific group.”
The protesters have sought to minimize their impact on the city’s residents. Despite blocking major streets, demonstrators have been seen cleaning the areas they’re occupying and posting handmade signs apologizing for the inconveniences.
As protesters block streets, the movement threatens both the economic viability of businesses, which must keep paying steep rents, as well as the city’s reputation as a business metropolis.