As a mass pro-democracy civil disobedience movement in Hong Kong entered its 23rd day on Monday, the territory's High Court ordered protesters to disperse after transportation groups applied for injunctions.
Protesters surged back onto the streets at three major protest sites in Hong Kong after police began clearing makeshift barricades on Friday, and forced a police retreat in the busy Kowloon shopping district of Mong Kok, which saw dozens injured in baton charges in clashes over the weekend.
The court granted injunctions brought by taxi and public minibus industry associations, whose members said the ongoing blockage of Nathan Road in Kowloon has affected their livelihoods.
While the court orders aimed at unnamed "persons occupying portions of Nathan Road" became effective immediately, it was unclear if and how court bailiffs would move to clear the area, as protesters can make their own arguments at a later hearing.
The influential Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) issued an apology for the inconvenience caused to fellow residents of the former British colony, which was promised "a high degree of autonomy" under the terms of its 1997 handover to China.
"We understand that even if the court hadn't granted an injunction, the occupation itself may already have broken some Hong Kong laws," the protesters said in a statement on Monday.
"It is reasonable from a legal perspective for the court to issue an injunction to restore social order, because...our actions have affected people's lives and caused a nuisance to society," it said, calling on individual protesters to consider their risk of being held in contempt of court if they continued to occupy Nathan Road.
But the statement also said the whole point of the Occupy movement is civil disobedience, with the aim of putting pressure on the government for a political solution to the three-week-old standoff.
"The government can use political means to end this movement," the HKFS statement said. "It can use any means it likes to restore social order, but it will never win back the trust of the people, and it will have lost an entire generation."
‘On the verge of a riot’
Police on Monday warned that the gritty working-class district of Mong Kok is "on the verge of a riot," hitting out at "radical" protesters who they said charged police lines.
They also accused protesters of using their children as human shields, while protesters say they are increasingly donning hard hats and homemade body armor in a bid to ward off blows from police batons.
The rising tensions come on the eve of scheduled talks between student protest leaders and government officials over the protesters' demands for fully democratic elections for the territory's chief executive in 2017.
While all of Hong Kong's five million registered voters will be able to cast a ballot in the poll, China's parliament announced on Aug. 31 that they will only be allowed to choose between candidates approved by a pro-Beijing committee, making the selection of a pan-democratic candidate highly unlikely.
Hong Kong's embattled chief executive Leung Chun-ying provoked scorn from students after he repeated Beijing's official line that the Occupy Central movement, which has blocked parts of the city since Sept. 28, is being aided and abetted by "foreign forces."
During an interview with Hong Kong broadcaster ATV, Leung said protests had got "out of hand" and called for "a peaceful and a meaningful end to this problem."
"I shan't go into details, but this is not entirely a domestic movement," he said.
Joshua Wong, leader of the academic activist group Scholarism, dismissed Leung's allegations.
"My links with foreign countries are limited to my Korean cellphone, my American computer and my Japanese Gundam," Wong wrote on his Facebook page on Monday, in a reference to an animated robot TV series.
"And of course, all of these are 'Made in China.’"
Wong expressed regret and disappointment at Leung's allegations and at the increasing use of the term "color revolution" by the official Chinese media to describe the movement.
"This is definitely not a color revolution," Wong said. "We are just organizing a pro-democracy movement. The entire umbrella movement has happened without any foreign intervention."
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said "some people, and international forces" were trying to interfere in Hong Kong's affairs, encouraging Occupy Central and other illegal activities.
"China is firmly opposed to any interference, in any way, by foreign forces in Hong Kong affairs, which are the internal affairs of China,"
And Bernard Chan, a member of Leung's own cabinet, the Executive Council, said he didn't set much store by the "external forces" theory.
"I don't think that the majority of Hong Kong citizens would necessarily start a drastic movement just because some foreign forces influenced them," Chan said. "I'm sure Hong Kong people will be able to judge for themselves which actions are voluntary."
Meanwhile, 26 pan-democratic Legislative Council (LegCo) members sent a letter to the Chief Executive's Office, condemning Leung's remarks, and asking him to come up with evidence to support them.
Tuesday's talks between protest leaders and officials will be broadcast live, although Leung has repeatedly warned that there will be no change to Beijing's bottom line on the electoral process.
Several hundred protesters remained on the streets of Mong Kok, as well as occupying streets in Admiralty and the busy Hong Kong Island shopping district of Causeway Bay late on Monday.
While the scene on Hong Kong Island remained calm, tensions in Kowloon were still running high, demonstrators said.
"Just now, a gentleman got a bit overexcited," a protester called Hui told RFA. "We can raise a banner calling for calm, but the police can also calm down a bit too, and then the protesters will back off a bit, too."
A second Mong Kok protester said he expected protests to swell following Tuesday's talks.
"My expectations aren't very high, because [chief secretary] Carrie Lam has said they can only hold talks within the framework of the National People's Congress (NPC) decision," he said.
"What that means is that we have to play the game by their rules, and a breakthrough isn't very likely."
He said he would continue occupying Nathan Road in support of "genuine universal suffrage."
"They should allow us public nomination of candidates, direct elections of the chief executive, and abolish [large pro-Beijing] functional constituencies in LegCo," he added.
Back in Hong Kong's universities, fresh graduates showed silent solidarity with the Occupy movement by holding umbrellas—the emblem of the movement after they were used by protesters to ward off pepper spray attacks on Sept. 28—over their heads while being awarded their degrees at formal ceremonies.
Reported by Luo Bote, Wei Ling, Wen Yuqing, Lin Jing and Lee Kin-kwan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.