HONG KONG — Three Hong Kong students have gone on a 72-hour hunger strike in the latest protest against government plans to introduce Chinese patriotism classes, a student activist group said Friday.
Up to 90,000 parents, teachers and students took to the streets last month to oppose the lessons, which they say is a bid to brainwash children with Chinese propaganda in the semi-autonomous Hong Kong.
The government has denied the claim, saying the "national education" subject is important in fostering a sense of national belonging and identity, amid rising anti-Beijing sentiments in the southern Chinese city of seven million.
"We're here on hunger strike...because the government is not listening to the people's voice," Joshua Wong, leader of "Scholarism", said as he confronted the city's leader Leung Chun-ying who visited the students at temporary camps Friday.
The 15-year-old, who is not himself on hunger strike, was joined by dozens of students who have set up the camps outside the government's harbourfront headquarters, where three members started their three days without food on Thursday.
Thousands of people are expected to rally outside government offices on Saturday, in a last-ditch effort to force authorities to withdraw the subject before the new school year begins on Monday.
The government wants schools to start introducing the subject voluntarily from Monday and make it compulsory in all schools by 2016. Local media reports said most schools have said they would not introduce the subject this year.
"We will not force through the introduction of the national education and it is not true that this is a brainwashing," Leung told reporters later.
Critics say the lessons gloss over events like the bloody Tiananmen crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989, and the mass starvation and extrajudicial killings of Mao's Cultural Revolution.
Former British colony Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and maintains a semi-autonomous status with its own legal and currency, as well as guarantees to civil liberties not seen on the mainland.
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