Hong Kong leader ready to meet with students

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Hong Kong leader ready to meet with students
Protesters cry as some of the protesters are beaten by riot police in the occupied area in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, early Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. New scuffles broke out Friday night between Hong Kong riot police and pro-democracy activists in a district where police cleared protesters earlier in the day. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A pro-democracy protester is struck by a baton as riot police move on an occupied section of a roadway in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
A riot police officer swings his baton at a pro-democracy protester as they move into an occupied section of a roadway in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Pro-democracy protesters shout at advancing riot police on their encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Riot police advance on a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Riot police stand guard against protesters at a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Protesters guard makeshift barricades at a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Riot police officers try to stop protesters from moving forward on a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
A pro-democracy protester tries to relax fellow protesters as riot police advance on their encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Riot police officers advance on a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Protesters gather behind make-shift barricades at a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Protesters gather at a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Pro-democracy protesters shout at advancing riot police on their encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Riot police officers advance on a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
A protester bleeds from the head after scuffles with riot police in the occupied area in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, early Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. New scuffles broke out Friday night between Hong Kong riot police and pro-democracy activists in a district where police cleared protesters earlier in the day. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Riot police officers use batons against protesters at a main road in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Hong Kong riot police struggled to hold back hundreds of defiant pro-democracy activists who returned to a district that officers had partially cleared earlier Friday. Police used pepper spray and batons to fend off a huge crowd that had gathered in Mong Kok, and several protesters were seen knocked to the ground or carried away by police. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Riot police officers use batons against protesters at a main road in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Hong Kong riot police struggled to hold back hundreds of defiant pro-democracy activists who returned to a district that officers had partially cleared earlier Friday. Police used pepper spray and batons to fend off a huge crowd that had gathered in Mong Kok, and several protesters were seen knocked to the ground or carried away by police. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Riot police officers duffle with protesters at a main road in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Hong Kong riot police struggled to hold back hundreds of defiant pro-democracy activists who returned to a district that officers had partially cleared earlier Friday. Police used pepper spray and batons to fend off a huge crowd that had gathered in Mong Kok, and several protesters were seen knocked to the ground or carried away by police. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Local residents shout at pro-democracy protesters on a main street in Mong Kok district in Hong Kong Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Riot police cleared an offshoot Hong Kong pro-democracy protest zone in a dawn raid on Friday, taking down barricades, tents and canopies that have blocked key streets for more than two weeks, but leaving the city's main thoroughfare still in the hands of the activists. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
A police officer and a pro-democracy protester take video each other after police moved in the occupied area in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, early Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Riot police cleared an offshoot Hong Kong pro-democracy protest zone in a dawn raid on Friday, taking down barricades, tents and canopies that have blocked key streets for more than two weeks, but leaving the city's main thoroughfare still in the hands of the activists. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Local residents and a mask-wearing protester gather around a road sign, covered by a slogan on a main street in Mong Kok district in Hong Kong Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Riot police cleared an offshoot Hong Kong pro-democracy protest zone in a dawn raid on Friday, taking down barricades, tents and canopies that have blocked key streets for more than two weeks, but leaving the city's main thoroughfare still in the hands of the activists. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Riot police remove barricades after they moved in the occupied area by the pro-democracy protesters in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, early Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Riot police cleared an offshoot Hong Kong pro-democracy protest zone in a dawn raid on Friday, taking down barricades, tents and canopies that have blocked key streets for more than two weeks, but leaving the city's main thoroughfare still in the hands of the activists. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Residents at the side walk watch riot police move in the occupied area by the pro-democracy protesters in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, early Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Riot police moved in on a Hong Kong pro-democracy protest zone in a dawn raid on Friday, taking down barricades, tents and canopies that have blocked key streets for more than two weeks. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A man walks past tents and umbrellas set up by pro-democracy protesters at an occupied area near the government headquarters in Hong Kong Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying 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. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
A protester raise a flag with Chinese words "I want real universal suffrage" and a guitar in front of barriers against police officers at a main street in Mong Kok district in Hong Kong Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Riot police cleared an offshoot Hong Kong pro-democracy protest zone in a dawn raid on Friday, taking down barricades, tents and canopies that have blocked key streets for more than two weeks, but leaving the city's main thoroughfare still in the hands of the activists. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Police officers push the protesters out to a nearby park to clear the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers push protesters out to a nearby park to clear the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers move forward to push protesters out to a nearby park to clear the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Protesters use umbrellas to block the pepper spray by Police officers at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers shout as they instruct the protesters to move to a nearby park at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers push protesters out to a nearby park to clear the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeklong political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Protesters raise their hands up as police officers push them out to a nearby park at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers request the protesters to move to a nearby park at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers push the protesters out to a nearby park to clear the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers request the protesters to move to a nearby park at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Demonstrators block the underpass with concrete slabs taken from drainage ditches at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Demonstrators block the underpass with concrete slabs taken from drainage ditches at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a week long political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A demonstrator helps block the underpass with concrete slabs taken from drainage ditches at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A man jabs his fingers in the throat of a pro-democracy protester (C) in the Central district of Hong Kong on October 13, 2014. Hong Kong has been plunged into the worst political crisis since its 1997 handover as pro-democracy activists take over the streets following China's refusal to grant citizens full universal suffrage. AFP PHOTO / ALEX OGLE (Photo credit should read Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators move barriers as others block the main road with metal and plastic safety barriers outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Demonstrators block the main road with tires outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeklong political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Demonstrators climb over barriers as others block the main road with metal and plastic safety barriers outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A demonstrator carries a tire as others blocked the main road with tires outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Demonstrators block the underpass with concrete slabs taken from drainage ditches at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Demonstrators block the underpass with concrete slabs taken from drainage ditches at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers push the protesters out to a nearby park to clear the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers stand guard after they removed barricades that protesters have set up to block off main roads in Causeway Bay district in Hong Kong Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. The police removed some of the barricades in a shopping district and opened one road that had been blocked by pro-democracy protesters for two weeks. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
HONG KONG - OCTOBER 14: A pro-democracy protester raise his hands in front of police cordon on a street outside of Hong Kong Government Complex on October 14, 2014 in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy protesters took over Lung Wo Road after police cleared off the barricades on Queen's Road. Protesters continue to call for open elections and the resignation of Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
Protesters celebrate following a standoff with police outside the central government offices in Hong Kong on October 14, 2014. Hong Kong police vowed October 14 to tear down more street barricades manned by pro-democracy protesters, hours after hundreds of officers armed with chainsaws and boltcutters partially cleared two major roads occupied for a fortnight. AFP PHOTO/ED JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-democracy demonstrators stand behind umbrellas during a protest in the Admiralty area of Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters girded themselves for an anticipated showdown with police who earlier used chain saws and sledgehammers to clear barricades from a major road in the city's business district. Photographer: Lam Yik Fei/Bloomberg via Getty Images
HONG KONG - OCTOBER 14: Pro-democracy protesters use umbrellas to protect themselves from police's pepper spray on a street outside of Hong Kong Government Complex on October 14, 2014 in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy protesters took over Lung Wo Road after police cleared off the barricades on Queen's Road. Protesters continue to call for open elections and the resignation of Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
HONG KONG - OCTOBER 14: Pro-democracy protesters clash with police officers on a street outside of Hong Kong Government Complex on October 14, 2014 in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy protesters took over Lung Wo Road after police cleared off the barricades on Queen's Road. Protesters continue to call for open elections and the resignation of Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
A protester is arrested by riot polices in the occupied area in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, late Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. New scuffles broke out Friday night between Hong Kong riot police and pro-democracy activists in a district where police cleared protesters earlier in the day. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
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HONG KONG (AP) - Hong Kong's leader said Thursday he is ready to start talks with student pro-democracy protest leaders as soon as next week, suggesting a breakthrough in a political crisis that has seen activists taking over the city's key business districts for almost three weeks.

But Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying reiterated that Beijing will not retract election restrictions that protesters oppose, raising questions whether the proposed meeting can overcome the vast differences between the two sides.

"As long as students or other sectors in Hong Kong are prepared to focus on this issue, yes we are ready, we are prepared to start the dialogue," he told reporters. "This is why over the past few days ... we expressed the wish to students that we'd like to start the dialogue to discuss universal suffrage as soon as we can, and hopefully within the following week."

Leung did not directly respond to questions about when police will move in to clear out protesters, who have taken over major roads and streets in the city's business districts since Sept. 28 to press for a greater say in choosing the city's leader in the territory's first direct elections.

He said authorities have tolerated the civil disobedience movement until now but it "cannot go on indefinitely."

"Going forward, we cannot allow the occupying of streets to have a negative impact on Hong Kong society. Police will use appropriate methods to deal with this problem," he said.

Authorities angered protesters when they called off a scheduled meeting with student leaders last week, saying talks were unlikely to produce constructive results.

Protesters oppose the Chinese central government's ruling that a committee stacked with pro-Beijing elites should screen candidates in the territory's first direct elections, promised in 2017. That effectively means that Beijing can vet the nominees before they go a public vote.

Leung stressed that Beijing's position will not change - but there is scope for negotiations in how the committee that nominates candidates is formed.

"In the second round of consultation, we can still listen to everyone's views. There is still room to discuss issues including the exact formation of the nomination committee," he said.

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.

Public anger over the aggressive tactics used by police erupted Wednesday after local TV showed several officers taking a protester around a dark corner and kicking him repeatedly on the ground. Police said it will investigate, and seven officers allegedly involved in the incident have been reassigned.

Leung defended the police force, saying they have behaved with more restraint than in many other places.

China's central government has condemned the mostly peaceful demonstrations, the biggest challenge to its authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997.

A front-page editorial Wednesday in the People's Daily, the ruling Communist Party's mouthpiece, said Hong Kong's protests "are doomed to fail."

There were no signs, however, that Beijing was planning to become directly involved in suppressing them.

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