Beijing says Hong Kong protests are ‘doomed to fail – October 3, 2014 4:46AM ET

The end of a two-day holiday on Friday reduced the numbers of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying made an apparent concession by offering talks, even as Beijing restated its resolute opposition to the protests and a completely free vote in Hong Kong.

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“For a few consecutive days, some people have been making trouble in Hong Kong, stirring up illegal assemblies in the name of seeking ‘real universal suffrage,” China’s official People’s Daily said in a front-page commentary on Friday. “Such acts have outrightly violated the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s law, as well as the principle of the rule of law, and they are doomed to fail.”

At a Thursday news conference held just minutes before the midnight deadline set by protesters, Leung refused to bow to their ultimatum to resign and repeated police warnings of serious consequences should they try to block or occupy government buildings.

However, he said Chief Secretary Carrie Lam would meet students to discuss political reforms, and even though he gave no timeframe, the decision seemed to defuse the situation slightly.

“I hope both sides will be satisfied,” she said. “Students had wanted a public meeting but I hope that we can have some flexibility to discuss details.”

The Hong Kong Federation of Students said in a statement early Friday that they planned to join the talks with the government, focused specifically on political reforms. They reiterated that Leung step down, saying he “had lost his integrity.”

One of the leaders of the broader Occupy Central democracy group, which started a long-threatened plan to paralyze the city’s downtown core by joining the student demonstration, also welcomed the talks, but insisted that Leung quit.

Wire services

Scottish voters reject independence in tight, historic vote – September 18, 2014 8:06AM ET Updated September 19, 2014 2:00AM ET

Scottish voters decided they were “Better Together” with the rest of United Kingdom and said “No” to an emotionally charged referendum to make Scotland an independent state, a decision the prevented a rupture of a 307-year union with England, bringing a huge sigh of relief to the British political establishment. Scots voted 55 percent to 45 percent Thursday against independence in a vote that saw an unprecedented turnout.Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at Sep 18, 2014 11.51

“We have chosen unity over division,” Alistair Darling, head of the No campaign, said early Friday in Glasgow. “Today is a momentous day for Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole.”

After the polls closed and the vote counting began, there was a quiet thrill of history in the making on the fog-shrouded streets of Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. Many Scots stayed up all night in homes and bars to watch the results.

The first results that trickled in early Friday brought cheer to the anti-independence “Better Together” camp, giving the No effort 56 percent of the vote in places like central Clackmannanshire, the remote Orkney Islands, Shetland and the Western Isles, which had been considered Yes strongholds.

Those areas all have small populations, however, and it wasn’t until Edinburgh and Aberdeen, Scotland’s oil capital, voted against independence that the Yes camp, which had triumphed in Glasgow, began to flag. Saying she was “personally bitterly disappointed” with the results, Deputy Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon told BBC that Scottish nationalists “need to pick ourselves up and move on.”

Eager voters had lined up outside some polling stations even before they opened at 7 a.m. Many polling stations were busy, and turnout was expected to be high. More than 4.2 million people had registered to vote — 97 percent of those eligible — including residents as young as 16.

The question posed on the ballot paper simply read, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Yet it divided Scots during months of campaigning, with opinion polls suggesting the result could be too close to call.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, leader of the independence campaign, cast his vote near his home in the northeast. His was a long-held dream of leading his country to independence. In a final speech on Wednesday night, Salmond told voters, “This is our opportunity of a lifetime, and we must seize it with both hands.”

On Friday morning he onceded defeat and demanded the British government rapidly meet its promises of more powers for Edinburgh.

Scotland has by a majority decided not at this stage to become an independent country. I accept that verdict of the people,” Salmond told independence supporters in the Scottish capital.

“This has been a triumph for the democratic process and for participation in politics,” he said.

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Al Jazeera and wire services. Julie MacDonald contributed to this report from Edinburgh.