The Hong Kong government said on Thursday it was calling off talks with pro-democracy student protesters aimed at putting an end to almost two weeks of demonstrations and sit-ins that have shut down parts of the city.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam told reporters that the talks scheduled for Friday would not go ahead because there was no chance they could bring about a positive result.
"The basis for constructive dialogue has been undermined. It's impossible to have a constructive meeting tomorrow," she said, accusing student leaders of "undermining trust" in the talks with recent comments.
"The dialogue cannot be deployed as an excuse to incite more people to join the protest," she said.
The announcement came just hours after protest leaders called on supporters to step up their efforts to occupy key zones in the city if the government did not make concessions. The number of protesters has dwindled sharply in recent days, in contrast with the tens of thousands of people who took to the streets at the outset.
The demonstrators are calling on Beijing to grant the former British colony a fully democratic vote at elections to choose a new leader in 2017. In August, China announced that all candidates would be first vetted by a committee of pro-Beijing loyalists.
Conflict of interest?
The pressure on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying meanwhile grew dramatically on Thursday after the opposition accused him of deceit over his failure to declare payments made to him by Australian engineering firm UGL.
Australia's Fairfax Media reported on Wednesday that Leung had received two payments totaling HK$50 million ($6.5 million, 5.05 million euros) from UGL during a deal struck in December 2011. The deal, under which Leung agreed to promote UGL and its then newly acquired DTZ Group and act as occasional adviser, was signed a week after he announced his candidacy for leadership elections in Hong Kong.
Opposition leaders on Thursday voiced concern that the payments had not been declared by Leung when he became leader in July 2012.
Hong Kong's Department of Justice says it has given the prosecution office authority to handle an investigation of the payout. The department said part of the investigation would go toward "considering and deciding whether prosecution action is warranted."
The move came after the opposition Democratic Party said it had asked the Independent Commission Against Corruption to investigate Leung over the payout.
Leung's office has said he was under no legal obligation to declare the earnings, and that he had "not provided any service to UGL after signing the above agreement." It said in a statement that he would have stayed on as an adviser to the company only if he had lost his election bid.
Leung's company, CY Leung & Co., merged with DTZ in 2000, with Leung being instrumental in the company's expansion into China.
tj/sb (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)