Tens of thousands of people blocked a large stretch of a multi-lane highway near government buildings on Tuesday as the occupation of Hong Kong by pro-democracy demonstrators entered its third night on the eve of China's National Day anniversary when the crowds are expected to swell even further.
Once again, the umbrellas were out in force, but as shelter from heavy rain brought by passing thunderstorms rather than to ward off the tear-gas and pepper spray deployed by police at the weekend.
In Admiralty, where the government headquarters is based, signs warned that the occupation had become overcrowded, asking protesters to stay in Central or head to other occupation sites in the shopping districts of Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island or Nathan Road in Kowloon, across the harbor.
Protesters once more lit up the night with their cell phones, and gave rousing choruses of popular Cantonese pop anthems, while others repeated chants calling for the resignation of embattled chief executive C.Y. Leung.
"Forgive me, but I have a lifelong craving for freedom," the protesters sang. "And yet I still fear I could one day fall."
Near the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay, around 10,000 people set up makeshift camps of plastic bags, raincoats and the ubiquitous umbrella, which has led to the movement's being dubbed the "Umbrella Revolution."
Hong Kong Police Public Relations Branch Chief Superintendent Steve Hui declined to give details of any police plan for clearing the occupiers from the city's streets, however.
"Police will only be deployed in accordance with the actual situation," Hui told reporters. "We will make assessments...and then take appropriate measures."
Hui said rumors that police were planning to fire rubber bullets had come as the result of a misunderstanding with the use of a banner that read "Disperse, or we fire."
The organizers of Occupy Central have urged people to keep up their protests, amid calls for full universal suffrage, including the public nomination of election candidates, and for Leung's resignation.
And the influential Hong Kong Federation of Students has vowed to escalate protests further if no response is received by the end of Tuesday.
Oscar Lai, spokesman for the academic activist group Scholarism, said its members are planning a silent protest at an official flag-raising ceremony to mark the anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China by Mao Zedong in 1949 on Wednesday.
Scholarism plans to attend the ceremony wearing mourning white and yellow ribbons, which have become a symbol of the mass pro-democracy movement.
"We won't shout any slogans, and we won't shove forwards," Lai said, adding that the group had staged a similar protest at last year's ceremony. "Based on last year's experience, we will probably just be carried away for no reason."
Refusal to step down
Leung on Tuesday declined to step down, telling reporters that any personnel changes would result in no political reforms at all.
"Any personnel change before the implementation of universal suffrage is achieved would only allow Hong Kong to continue to pick its leader under the Election Committee model," he said.
Leung has been repeatedly taunted by protesters for receiving just 689 votes in 2013 out of a possible 1,200 votes from a largely pro-Beijing Election Committee.
Under current proposals, his successor will be elected in 2017 by all of Hong Kong's five million eligible voters. But Beijing ruled out the possibility of public nomination of candidates on Aug. 31, meaning that pan-democratic candidates are highly unlikely to be selected.
Leung said Beijing's decision was final, and said he was prepared for the Occupy campaign to last "quite a long time."
Meanwhile, U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Roger Wicker said they were "distressed" by the use of tear gas and pepper spray against demonstrators on Sunday, calling on the Hong Kong authorities to show restraint and engage in "good-faith" negotiations to resolve the situation.
"Hong Kong’s position as Asia’s ‘world city’ is rooted in fundamental rights, including freedoms of peaceful assembly, expression, and the press," Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Wicker, the Senate Republican deputy whip, said in a statement.
"As democratically elected members of the United States Senate we stand united with the people of Hong Kong and support their aspirations for universal suffrage and full democracy.”
In its first direct mention of the Occupy movement since it began on Sunday, China's state-run broadcaster hit out at the pro-democracy protests.in its first direct mention of the Occupy movement since it began on Sunday.
The protests had caused "at least HK$40 billion (more than U.S. $5 billion) in economic losses," the report said, citing impacts on the stock markets, property, retail, catering and tourism sectors.
"The aim of Occupy Central is to paralyse transportation, harm the rule of law and disrupt business, with a view to forcing the central and SAR governments to give in," it said.
It said local residents were losing patience with the disruption to their daily lives. However, an online poll on the website of the English-language South China Morning Post newspaper showed that some 70 percent of respondents didn't foresee that the tide of public opinion would turn against protesters, should they continue with the occupation for several days.
Reported by Wen Yuqing, Lam Yuet-tung, and Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.