Hong Kong's leader said Thursday he is ready to start talks as soon as next week with student leaders of the pro-democracy protests that have rocked the city for nearly three weeks.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said officials have been negotiating with the students through middlemen in the past few days, and he hoped a meeting to address protesters' demands for democratic reform can be held as soon as next week.
"Over these past few days ... some middlemen were in touch with the Hong Kong Federation of Students, and we expressed our wish that the two sides can meet officially as early as possible," Leung told reporters.
The announcement suggests a breakthrough in a bitter standoff between the authorities and pro-democracy protesters, who have taken over major roads and streets in the city center since Sept. 28 to oppose the Chinese central government's decision to screen candidates in the territory's first direct elections in 2017.
Authorities angered protesters when they called off a scheduled meeting with student leaders last week, saying talks were unlikely to produce constructive results.
Tensions between the two sides have escalated in the past few days, as riot police armed with pepper spray and batons moved to clear activists from the occupied streets.
China's central government is becoming increasingly impatient with the mostly peaceful demonstrations, the biggest challenge to its authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997. There were no signs, however, that Beijing was planning to become directly involved in suppressing them.
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