Hong Kong pro-democracy protests that brought tens of thousands on to the streets last week dwindled to a few hundred on Wednesday after activist leaders agreed to talks with the government which are all but certain to go nowhere.
The student-led protests have calmed since clashes with police more than a week ago, and the number of protesters calling for universal suffrage has fallen dramatically since violent scuffles broke out at the weekend between demonstrators and pro-Beijing opponents.
Friday's talks will focus on "the basis for political development", the government said, referring to plans for a 2017 election of the chief executive, Hong Kong's leader, but it was unclear how discussions could reconcile two such polarized positions.
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"The lack of room for the government to back away from (China's) decision will make it difficult for the government to satisfy the student leaders' requested demands," Citi Group said in a research note.
China's Communist Party leaders rule Hong Kong through a "one country, two systems" formula which allows wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland and specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal.
But Beijing ruled on Aug. 31 it would vet candidates who want to run for chief executive in 2017, which the democracy activists said rendered the universal suffrage concept meaningless.