Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have moved forward the start of a planned protest, using the momentum generated by student demonstrations in the city. Several people have been arrested.
Hong Kong pro-democracy group Occupy Central on Sunday launched a long-threatened protest on the back of student demonstrations calling for more political freedoms from Beijing.
Occupy Central brought forward the offical launch of its plan to paralyze the city's central business district by three days after students stormed government headquarters late on Friday following a week-long strike. The students later received support from thousands of more protesters who joined them outside the complex on Saturday evening.
Police made at least 74 arrests - including that of prominent 17-year-old student activist leader Joshua Wong - and urged protesters to leave what the authorities called an "unlawful assembly." Many protesters wore goggles and wrapped their faces in plastic film in case the police used pepper spray as they did at angry scenes earlier in the week.
Only a few hundred protesters remained at the site on Sunday morning, but many of those who left said they would return later in the day.
Announcing the start of its campaign, Occupy Central said in a statement: "As the wheel of time has reached this point, we have decided to arise and act. The Occupy movement will continue the current occupation."
Not all students were happy at what they see as a takeover of their protest by the pro-democracy group.
"This was always a separate student movement with similar goals but different directions. I don't think it should be brought together like this," one recent graduate, Vito Leung, 24, told the Associated Press news agency.
Beijing's tightening grip?
Democracy supporters in Hong Kong are calling on Beijing to allow fully democratic elections in the former British colony in 2017, after China's legislature last month ruled that all candidates in the poll - which China had initially promised would be carried out on the basis of "universal suffrage" - would first be vetted by a committee of Beijing loyalists.
Up to now, Hong Kong's leader has been chosen by the committee.
China took over Hong Kong from British colonial rule in 1997, but has always granted the financial hub a large degree of autonomy, despite choosing its leader.
Pro-democracy campaigners fear that the city's rule of law and civil liberties, including freedom of speech, could be eroded if Beijing does not allow citizens a full say in who governs them.
tj/glb (AP, AFP)