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Democracy protest in Hong Kong thins out

Crowds of protesters who filled Hong Kong's streets with demands for a greater say in choosing the territory's leader thinned dramatically yesterday after student leaders and the government agreed to hold talks in the increasingly frustrated city.

Just a couple of days after tens of thousands of demonstrators thronged the city's streets, only a few hundred protesters were scattered across the city's three main protest areas.

On some stretches of the blockaded six-lane highway that cuts through the heart of Hong Kong's business district, just a few dozen students remained, once again snarling traffic and slowing commuters.

One young protester sleepily brushed his teeth as rush hour began, and nearby a sleeping demonstrator leaned back in a nylon chair, his mouth open and his eyeglasses askew.

Despite the dwindling numbers of activists on the streets, protest leaders insisted the movement was far from defeated, and vowed to walk away from negotiations if the police used force to clear away the remaining demonstrators.

The protesters are demanding a wider say in the inaugural 2017 elections for Hong Kong's top official, known as the chief executive, than China's central government is willing to give them. Beijing, which controls Hong Kong but allows far more liberty here than on the mainland, insists that all candidates be screened by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing tycoons and other elites, raising fears of a tightening grip by Communist leaders.