However, they have also provoked intense debate in the city and highlighted stark divisions in society as to what is important for the city’s future.
On Wednesday night, Joshua Wong, leader of the Scholarism students movement, handed out leaflets in Wan Chai apologising for the disruption to transport, highlighting the sensitivity.
Meanwhile, 12 pan-democratic members of the legislative council were prevented from holding a meeting in government offices and instead addressed protesters at Admiralty, criticising the government.
Crowds also swelled at the Mong Kok protest site, reaching about 600 people as banners were hung telling the protesters to go home.
With tensions high and “dialogue” between the Hong Kong government and the Federation of Students set to start on Friday, FinanceAsia asked a range of people – including protesters, organisers and opponents – what should happen next.
Update: The Hong Kong government cancelled the talks on Thursday after student representatives urged a stepping up of protests. "The basis for a constructive dialogue has been seriously undermined," Carrie Lam, chief secretary for administration, said at a press conference.
Lam was appointed to negotiate with protest groups on behalf of the government. She called on protesters to retreat from protest sites immediately but said the government remained open to negotiations..
Tommy Cheung, president of Chinese University of Hong Kong Students’ union and spokesman for the Federation of Students.
What are we expecting from the talks on Friday? We expect the government to know why people are occupying the streets. In recent times they only had opinions from the pan-democrats on the question of civil nominations.
However, the government felt it was a minority issue and didn’t have the popular support. But they misjudged the anger of the public.
If they want us to retreat they have to offer us something. They have to think very carefully. They may offer to submit a report to Beijing. They need to ask the National People’s Congress (NPC) to reconsider their stance on civil nominations.
If the Hong Kong government can’t solve the problem, Occupy Central will continue but we should have the dialogue first. We need them to consider the opinions of the Occupy movement.”
Kenneth Leung, Legislative council member, representing the accountancy profession in Hong Kong. Also a member of the police complaints commission
The Federation of Students demands civil nomination and the abolition of functional constituency in the Legco election [but] these changes are not within the control of the [Hong Kong] government. Nor will [the HK government] be prepared to ask [China’s] government to consider these proposals.
There will not be any concrete result from the talks unless the NPC is prepared to revise its decision, which is very unlikely. Some commentators think that NPC may be able to do so if [the Hong Kong] government files a supplementary report that sets out the most current situation. Even if that is the case, any revision to the decision will be cosmetic.
Another possibility will be for the composition and election of the 1,200 nomination committee members to be changed drastically, while maintaining the characteristics of the 4 sectors. These changes, however fundamental, can still be within the realm of the NPC standing committee decisions.
The talks are a mere gesture to defuse the current tension and cannot deal with the fundamental demands of the students. However, one gesture that the [Hong Kong] government can do in order to buy more time will be to reopen the civic square in front of the CGO and tear down the fences it has recently erected. Otherwise, there is nothing the [Hong Kong] government can offer the students on the table.
Gary Chan, spokesman for the Alliance for Peace and Democracy, an anti-Occupy group.
I think the situation has died down but the issue that remains is the argument on how to organise elections. There are still areas and space for discussion.
The big problem is that Hong Kong society has been divided. Every person, every company, every organisation has been divided.
Also, the protesters’ leadership is poor. There are too many leaders in fact. The people occupying the roads are all leaders. It’s chaos.
University students are too free and too young. I don’t think they know enough about the politics between Hong Kong and Beijing.
It will die down in a matter of days. The government has waited as long as possible to allow it to die down until the highway at Admiralty only has a few people left. Then the government will drive them away.
I think the Hong Kong community will accept this and some people will be happy. Parents were happy at the start with traffic jams but two weeks later they will ask why the police didn’t drive them away. The mood is changing.
Kevin Lai, chief economist at Daiwa Capital Markets
The government will not crack down and it is very unlikely it will end violently. The risks are too high for both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.
I am quite hopeful for a more peaceful solution. The government needs to do something about electoral reform. They have room to manoeuvre and so we might get changes, with both sides coming away with something.
The students are willing to talk but if the government doesn’t come up with substantial amendments the students will continue to protest. If that happens we may get another scenario where the government lets the students wear themselves out and hope that there will be enough public discontent that forces the students to retreat.
Public patience is still there. People like myself living in Central are sympathetic and most complaints are coming from small businesses in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay.
Cheung Keung, 66 year-old practitioner of medicine – protester (pictured left)
The government really has to make the first move.
We are heading for a peaceful solution, which is important after Tiananmen in 1989. We hope the government can sincerely speak to the students and listen to their demands.
My generation saw Tiananmen and I hope this doesn’t happen again, although I fear it may eventually head this way. It reminds me of the cultural revolution, where the government created divisions in society forcing people to go against each other.
I recognise that decisions by the NPC have already been made but our limited options have created increased awareness of the political environment here. The protest, which was started by young students, has really moved my generation.
The Chinese government really has to make the first move because it has the power.
Mandy, 28 year old graphic designer - protester at Admiralty
I grew up in a generation that gets whatever we ask for. But this movement has made us reflect on how privileged we are and how important democracy is.
The 12 days of protest so far has really moved me. It has encouraged me to stand up in future. I wont be silent on politics anymore.
Sheryl, 24 year old graphic designer - protester at Admiralty
This protest is good because it brings us closer to the society I want to live in.
Seeing the passion of students has moved me and inspired me to take action. The government needs to make the next move because the students came out and made the first step.
Edward Chin, hedge fund manager and organiser of the banking and finance professionals that support Occupy Central
Universal suffrage is the dream of every single member in this movement. They are all self motivated/directed. Something ‘meaningful’ needs to come out from the government's side.
Professional at a global investment bank
What should happen next is what should have happened already. When the students were offered talks they should have withdrawn and declared victory.
In that case, even if the government had not delivered any concessions the students would have had a platform to go back to the streets.
Looking at it in a non-cynical way, the police have just gone from one extreme to another – from using tear gas to leaving them alone. But cynically the police have given the protesters enough rope to hang themselves as the disruption to the transport system has threatened to erode public sympathy.
I’m not from Hong Kong but this is a very entrepreneurial city and people want to get on and work. If it goes on over the longer term it could backfire on the protesters and goodwill will disappear.
I don’t see how the status quo will change. Even if CY Leung resigns, what would it achieve? Nothing really. I don’t see how things will change. It is merely the start of a process.