Updated at 8:00 p.m. on 2014-10-03
Pro-democracy protesters in downtown Hong Kong clashed with groups opposing the mass Occupy movement on Friday, while the government stepped up its rhetoric against protesters who blocked government headquarters.
The clashes prompted Hong Kong student leaders among those behind the protests to call off talks with the government aimed at bringing an end to mass rallies.
The student leaders accused police of failing to promptly act to stop the violent attacks on the protest camps of the Occupy Central, the group pushing for genuine universal suffrage in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
The Occupy crowds shrank sharply after talks between organizers and the government on constitutional reform were announced late on Thursday, and only around 200 demonstrators were left to face a much larger group of anti-protesters in the Kowloon shopping district of Mong Kok.
The anti-protesters, some of whom complained to local media that their livelihoods have been affected by the mass occupations which have lasted since Sunday, had started to dismantle barricades protecting the crowd.
Some comments suggested the anti-demonstration was ultimately backed by pro-Beijing forces, while others said they were just local people angered by the continuing disruption to daily life.
An eyewitness surnamed Choi said the anti-protesters were apparently trying to get the road open to traffic again.
"I saw a student get dragged away by a bunch of people, and a blue tent toppled over," Choi said. "The student just lay there and offered no resistance."
"I thought they were horrible people. I don't know who they are, but they were very fierce," she said.
She said one group shouted "Clear the area!" while the Occupy group responded with a chant of "Stay calm!"
The clashes led to a rapid swelling of the Occupy crowd, as more supporters arrived at the busy intersection, where crowds have blocked traffic for nearly a week.
But a bystander in Mong Kok surnamed Wong told RFA that the Occupy movement still enjoys widespread public support.
"They are working for freedom and democracy for Hong Kong, so most ordinary people would support them," Wong said. "This is definitely a good thing [they are doing]."
He said the week-long movement has already made a huge impact, and that ordinary Hong Kong citizens would likely turn out again in huge numbers if they thought the Occupy protesters were in danger of police violence.
"I think they would, because people always support the underdog," Wong said. "Students are at the core of this movement, and their slogan is the peaceful occupation of Central."
Hong Kong's main student union said it was walking away from negotiations with the government after police appeared to ignore what it claimed was orchestrated violence carried out by paid thugs sent by authorities to stir up trouble, with the aim of discrediting the protesters.
"There is no other option but to call off talks," Agence France-Presse quoted the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), one of several groups driving a campaign for free elections, as saying Friday.
"The government and police turned a blind eye to violent acts by the triads targeting peaceful Occupy protesters," the union added.
Pan-democratic politicians also issued a statement calling on protesters to remain calm, so as to avoid police action to clear the area.
And Civic Party leader Alan Leong called on the government to use constructive dialogue to resolve the impasse with protesters, instead of trying to discredit the movement.
Meanwhile, the Occupy Central group said via its Twitter account that its website and email account had been attacked by unknown hackers.
"OCLPHK official website hacked by Anonymous Asia & email account for donations attacked, 'about to be blocked,'" the group tweeted on Friday.
The website of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) also appeared to have been attacked by the same group, the South China Morning Post reported.
On Hong Kong island, hundreds of campaigners blocked access to key government buildings and street outside central government offices, preventing thousands of civil servants from reporting for duty normally, the government said in a statement.
"Some 3,000 ... staff cannot return to their workplaces as usual," the government said in a statement on its website. "All activities for visitors and other external activities have been postponed or cancelled."
It hit out at protesters for "blocking access" to the east wing of the government headquarters in the Central business district.
"Blocking access roads to the [offices] is a serious offence and will affect the staff working [there]," a government spokesman said in a statement.
"The Government condemns the protesters for setting up obstacles at the entrance to the second floor of the East Wing at the CGO this morning, leaving government staff unable to return to their workplace."
Police on Sunday fired tear gas and pepper spray at crowds who had occupied major highways in downtown Hong Kong, sparking widespread public criticism and calls for chief executive C.Y. Leung to resign.
Late on Thursday, Leung refused to step down ahead of a student-imposed deadline, but agreed to student proposals for talks with his second-in-command Carrie Lam.
In Hong Kong Island's Causeway Bay shopping area, crowds had dwindled from tens of thousands to a few dozen on Friday, while police had already removed barricades from major highways in other key protest areas, local media reported.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.