Hong Kong's leader says he is ready to start talks as soon as next week with student leaders of the pro-democracy protests that have rocked the city for nearly three weeks.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said Thursday officials have been negotiating with the students through middlemen in the past few days, and authorities are now ready to hold talks on democratic reform.

Authorities angered protesters when they called off a scheduled meeting with student leaders last week, saying talks were unlikely to produce constructive results.

The demonstrators have taken to the streets since Sept. 26 to oppose the Chinese central government's decision to screen candidates to run in the territory's first direct elections in 2017.