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Fruitless Hong Kong protest talks highlight vast gulf between young students, senior officials

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HONG KONG — On one side of the table sat the idealistic and earnest students in jeans and black T-shirts, knapsacks by their sides. Facing them was the lineup of seasoned government officials in formal suits.

In an unprecedented two-hour televised meeting Tuesday, the students passionately explained why they had taken to the streets for more than three weeks to fight for greater democracy in the specially-run Chinese region. The officials responded that the students' demands were not legally feasible.

The discussion yielded scant progress, and protesters remained camped in the streets of three busy districts of the Asian financial hub on Wednesday.

The meeting also highlights the vast generational and political divide that needs to be bridged to end Hong Kong's biggest political crisis since China took control of the city 17 years ago.

PHOTO: A reporter raises a hand to cast a question as Hong Kong government officials, from right, Undersecretary of the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau Lau Kong-wah, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam, Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen and Chief Executive's Office Director Edward Yau Tang-wah attend a news conference after their talks on constitutional development with the student leaders in Hong Kong Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. Hong Kong student leaders and government officials held talks Tuesday to end pro-democracy protests now in their fourth week even as the city's Beijing-backed leader reaffirmed his unwillingness to compromise on the activists' key demand. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A reporter raises a hand to cast a question as Hong Kong government officials, from right, Undersecretary of the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau Lau Kong-wah, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam, Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen and Chief Executive's Office Director Edward Yau Tang-wah attend a news conference after their talks on constitutional development with the student leaders in Hong Kong Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. Hong Kong student leaders and government officials held talks Tuesday to end pro-democracy protests now in their fourth week even as the city's Beijing-backed leader reaffirmed his unwillingness to compromise on the activists' key demand. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

The student-led protests are rooted in growing discontent among young people about poor economic prospects in the territory with one of the world's biggest wealth gaps. The protesters want Hong Kong's government to abandon a requirement by China's legislature for a committee to screen candidates for inaugural 2017 elections for the top leader. The students say it gives the city's pro-Beijing elite too much say.

President Xi Jinping, who has taken a hard-line approach to dissent in other Chinese regions, is unlikely to give any ground.

As student leaders considered whether to meet officials again, protesters vowed to keep occupying the protest zones despite three court injunctions granted this week to taxi and minibus operators and the owner of an office tower ordering them to leave.

Cheung Kuen, a retired 55-year-old stock trader who watched the entire meeting, said there were no winners.

"The students have their rights, and the government has its problems," Cheung said. "Nothing has changed. The government side already gave some proposals, which were not very deep. The students and society already know them. Hong Kong is only a region and can't do any more so now it's about who has more patience."

He said he agreed with the students' reform proposals calling for open nominations for the election candidates, but he didn't see any chance of them becoming a reality.

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PHOTO: A line of riot police stand guard near a barricade at an occupied area, in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014. Hong Kong student leaders and government officials talked but agreed on little Tuesday as the city's Beijing-backed leader reaffirmed his unwillingness to compromise on the key demand of activists camped in the streets now for a fourth week.   (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
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