A deadline for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong to clear the streets is looming, as the city's leader warns the unrest will have "serious" public safety consequences. The protests have reached their second week.
Protesters were defiant on Sunday in the face of a deadline imposed by Hong Kong's Beijing-backed Chief Executive. Leung Chun-ying said if protesters remained on the streets Monday, authorities would "take all necessary actions to restore social order" and allow the city's residents and government staff to "return to their normal work and life."
His ultimatum, however, was met with a massive rally overnight, which took the protests into their eighth day.
Thousands pushing for reforms chanted "Democracy now! Democracy in Hong Kong!"
The protest movement began after the Chinese government passed a law last month which removes the democratic right from Hong Kong citizens to choose their own chief executive. Instead, Beijing has insisted only pre-approved candidates will stand for the 2017 election. The move was seen as a reversal of China's promise that the vote, the first since the 1997 handover from Britain, would be decided by universal suffrage.
The protesters are demanding Beijing reverse its decision and Leung resign.
There were sporadic violent clashes overnight, mainly in the Kowloon district of Mongkok, where pro-democracy activists claimed they are being attacked by agitators paid by the city's triad organized crime gangs.
Hong Kong's student activists accuse the police of failing to protect them and working together with the criminal gangs.
The district saw police use batons and pepper spray to push back protesters in the early hours of Sunday.
By mid-morning the crowd in Hong Kong's business district streets had thinned out considerably. But it was not yet clear whether the protesters were following the government's demands to disperse, or simply heading home to rest before taking to the streets once more, as has been the case all week.
Call to clear the streets
Leung said in a televised speech earlier on Saturday that he wanted the protest movement to have subsided by Monday.
"We have to ensure the safety of government premises and restore their operation," he said. "The most pressing task for the government is to reopen access to the CGO (Central Government Offices) on Monday so that some 3,000 CGO staff can return to their workplace and continue to provide services to the public."
Leung added that Hong Kong's problems had to be resolved "through rational communication to seek common ground," saying that the violence in the street "makes things worse."
"The situation may probably evolve into a state beyond control, and will have serious consequences to public safety and social order," he said.
dr/ (AFP, AP)