Hong Kong Leader Willing To Let Protests Continue

HONG KONG (Reuters) -

Hong Kong’s leader is willing to let pro-democracy demonstrations blocking large areas of the city go on for weeks if necessary, a source close to him said, while defiant protesters vowed they would not budge.

The city’s streets were calm early on Thursday while police largely kept their distance from the tens of thousands of mostly young people keeping up protests in the heart of the Asian financial hub that are now nearly a week old.

The protesters demand that Beijing-backed Leung Chun-ying steps down by the end of Thursday, which he refuses, leaving the two sides poles apart in a dispute over how much political control China should have over the former British colony.

The popular “Occupy Central” movement presents one of the biggest political challenges for Beijing since it violently crushed pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

According to a government source with ties to Leung, the chief executive was prepared to allow the protests to subside, and would only intervene if there was looting or violence.

“Unless there’s some chaotic situation, we won’t send in riot police … We hope this doesn’t happen,” the source said. “We have to deal with it peacefully, even if it lasts weeks or months.” Leung could not be reached for comment.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he had “high hopes” that Hong Kong authorities would exercise restraint, while his Chinese counterpart said countries should not meddle in China’s internal affairs.