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HONG KONG: It's a bubbling cauldron scenario

| by Mary Ma

( October 03, 2014, Hong Kong SAR, Sri Lanka Guardian)The situation is worrisome. After days of civil unrest in what is now labelled the "Umbrella Movement" - a symbol drawn from the parasols used in repelling police tear gas - it has become a waiting game for everyone.

Angry locals confront pro-democracy student protesters demanding they remove the barricades blocking local streets in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. Hong Kong protest leaders on Friday welcomed an offer by the territory's leader of talks to defuse the crisis over demonstrations seeking democratic reforms, though they continued to demand he resign and maintained barricades around government headquarters, frustrating staff going to work. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

How long will the wait be. One week? Two? A month? There are fears the wait would not be as long as expected by some.

At the moment, the gap is a chasm. While students demand the resignation of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, and that Beijing abandon its decision on electoral reforms, the central government's position is clear in that the demands are totally unacceptable.

Meanwhile, nobody can claim to speak for the movement. It's no longer Occupy Central as initiated by Benny Tai Yiu-ting and others - not only in the fact it has spread beyond Central, but also that he and the pan-democrats are abhorred by many of the young protesters.

The movement has become leaderless. With the huge differences and in the absence of a leader, it would be hard to start a meaningful dialogue.

In the stalemate, the SAR administration must be watching how resilient the protesters can be, and whether the occupation of Admiralty, Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui will spread to other districts.

Since riot police were withdrawn, policymakers have been waiting for public opinion to swing. If chaos erupts, the moral ground claimed by the protesters will be eroded. Then, the government will have legitimate reasons to take further action.

Meanwhile, it has clearly stepped up its publicity campaign to accelerate the swing. After arranging for the Fire Services Department to say how emergency services had been delayed, it started convening the interdepartmental press conference from yesterday to give updates on the social impact.

While this will put pressure on the protesters, it's aimed more at influencing public opinion. These are basic and useful public relations tactics.

The protesters know that, so they've urged their peers to stay calm whenever provoked.

The opinion war is taking shape. Retailers are complaining. Mong Kok florists say custom has plunged up to 70 percent, since the sit-in has made deliveries in some areas impossible.

If the blockage persists, the discontent will grow louder.

There's another major stakeholder in the game - Beijing. Its response will directly affect the course of events.

Beijing is alarmed about what's happening, especially the contagious effect it could have on mainlanders.

Despite the clampdown on media coverage, news of the mass protest is still able to filter north. But so far, the feared domino effect hasn't materialized.

Another thing to watch is whether opinion in the mainland will swing to condemn the protests as a separatist movement. If Beijing is satisfied the impact can be contained, developments would quicken.

While there isn't much to suggest things will turn out for the good, there's a lot to suggest the contrary.

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