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Joshua Wong, leader of the student movement, delivers a speech, outside the offices of Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in Hong Kong early October 3, 2014.


Leaders of the mass protest movement that has shaken Hong Kong for the past week accepted a late-night government offer for talks, but continued to insist that the Beijing-backed leader of the island resign.

As thousands of chanting protesters gathered in the hot night in front of his downtown office, Hong Kong's chief executive Leung Chun-ying said late Thursday he would not step down. But in his first concession to protesters he said his deputy, Carrie Lam, will hold talks with student leaders.

The announcement, made shortly before midnight, capped a tense evening that first saw police bring in reinforcements, tear gas and rubber bullets, then had students respond with a crush of people prepared to storm government offices.

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But violence with police did not break out, as protest leaders called for calm and offered hope about the meeting proposal. Occupy Central with Love and Peace, one of the groups responsible for bringing hundreds of thousands of people to Hong Kong streets, expressed "hopes the talks can provide a turning point in the current political stalemate."

Student leaders, while calling for "the continuation of the occupation," suggested they were willing to cool the fires for a few days and hold off breaking in to government offices as they waited for the meeting.

Yet tensions remained. As Friday dawned, thousands of young people remained in the streets, blocking traffic on an additional artery, standing in the way of buses bringing food and water to police and preventing civil servants from getting to work. Scuffles and heated arguments broke out over next steps despite calls by their leaders for calm. It served as a reminder that no matter what happens in the hours and days ahead, the movement they created to give voice to their dislike of mainland authorities is likely to have a lasting impact on Hong Kong-China relations.

"We are going to create a lot of trouble for them," said Chris Choi, a 16-year-old secondary-school student who, with many in his age group, faults the Chinese government for actively undermining some of the city's civil liberties.

The crowd grew quiet as people used hand-held radios to listen while Mr. Leung urged them to keep the peace, and presented the meeting proposal.

For the 35 years since China began its reform and opening, Hong Kong has sought the mainland's good graces, which have provided a wellspring of lucrative work and trade.

But the high school and university students on the streets this week have grown up in a Hong Kong riven by deep wealth disparities and diminishing opportunities for new entrants into the work force. The inability, or unwillingness, of local government to address those problems has stirred a belief that it exists largely to cater to others: the ultra-wealthy and the People's Republic of China.

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Beijing is a target in part because many on the streets were born after the British handover. They have only known Hong Kong as a Chinese city, and therefore see only China as being at fault. Conversational in English and weaned on a diet of Western thinking from online sources, they want free elections as a buffer against what they see as the sullying influence of mainland authorities.

"The [People's Republic of China] and the Hong Kong government have lost an entire generation to a lot of anger," said James Rice, a philosophy professor at Lingnan University who has studied the city's political culture. "I have a feeling they will be implacably opposed to the establishment."

They are, at the same time, a generation emboldened by one of their own. When Joshua Wong takes to the stage, cheers erupt and people whisper: "That's our leader." The rail-thin student with the bookish demeanour is just 17, but Hong Kong has long ago learned to place no stock in his age or slight figure.

"Out of everyone, if you think about whose words you will listen to the most, it's Joshua. It's not some political party's leader. It's Joshua," said Kacey Wong, an artist active in this week's protests.

Mr. Wong led demonstrations in 2012 that brought 120,000 to the streets to overturn introduction of a more patriotic Chinese curriculum. He has now turned his attention to fixing Hong Kong's political system. He has called electoral reform a "generational war," and espoused a firmness of purpose that has made him, and the youth whose views he has helped to inspire, a relentless adversary to government.

"Compromising before you even begin fighting is illogical," he once said. On Thursday, he urged the crowds to remain united. "If we fight together, we will succeed."

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The strength of his views has galvanized those hungry for change.

"He has a very clear idea of what he wants for the future, or what his generation wants for the future," said Michael Vidler, a lawyer who has represented him.

If Mr. Wong has captured some of his generation's angst, he has also become a proxy for Beijing's worry. Last Friday, at the early outset of protests, authorities arrested him in hopes of keeping him detained and thereby removing a leader capable of instigating broader demonstrations.

The degree of concern was evident from the investigation that followed his arrest. Police tore apart the room he shares with his brother, seizing computers and going so far as to examine the seams of pants in a search that was more intensive than what is done at "major drug busts," said Mr. Vidler.

It didn't work. His 40-hour detention spurred many to the streets in anger, providing a key spark to the conflagration that has ensued.

And it's likely that fire will continue to smoulder, as a generation finds in Mr. Wong an inspiration to battle back at China.

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"Before, I did not know that a teenager like me might actually participate in events like protests," said Mr. Choi, who feels newly empowered to push for change.

But in Mr. Wong's example, "I started to see that we can make an impact on society – and actually, it's our responsibility to participate in different issues in Hong Kong."

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