Hundreds of pro-democracy activists clashed with police in Hong Kong on Sunday after student leaders of the Occupy Central movement called on supporters to encircle government buildings in the former British colony.
Protesters wearing hard hats and masks chanted "Surround Government HQ!" and "Make Way! Make Way!" as they converged on Central Government Offices in the semiautonomous Chinese city, while police fired pepper spray in a bid to disperse the crowd.
More people began streaming towards the entrances and fire exits of the government building after a call from Nathan Law of the academic activist group Scholarism to supporters to join in.
The ubiquitous umbrellas, which became a symbol of the "Umbrella Movement" because of their widespread use to ward off pepper and tear-gas spray, were once more out in force.
The crowd had swelled to "several thousand," by 10.00 p.m. local time, according to RFA journalists at the scene, after Hong Kong Federation of Students leader Nathan Law addressed the main occupation site on nearby Harcourt Road, calling on them to join in.
But Scholarism's Oscar Lai warned protesters to stick to the principle of non-violent action, and not to provoke or charge at police.
"We can't provoke the police or charge at them, because we are fighting for their basic right to vote and to seek election as well," Lai said.
"They are Hong Kong people too," he told the crowd in a speech as the action was launched in "Umbrella Square."
"I want today's action to be a mass action, not a dozen people hanging around at a street corner," he said. "If that happens, it's much harder for us to support you and ensure your safety."
He added: "Today's protest has an aim; and that is to force the government to pay attention to the will of the people."
Police warning defied
Hong Kong police confront pro-democracy activists early Dec. 1, 2014 local time. (Photo by EyePress News)
Sunday's protest came in spite of a police warning against such a rally, after which some 3,000 officers were deployed to the scene.
"If anyone obstructs the police in carrying out their duty, charges the police line violently, or tries to blockade central government offices, police will take resolute action," police spokesman Kong Man-keung told reporters.
A City University student surnamed Ng said she would be swelling the ranks of Sunday's protests, in spite of police warnings.
"I probably won't stand right on the front line, because my family are very worried about my safety," Ng said. "So I'll find a spot a little further back."
"The more of us there are, the safer it will be," she said.
The renewed stand-off came after police cleared a seven-week-old occupation of the bustling shopping district of Mong Kok last week, acting to enforce a civil injunction brought by the transportation industry over the blocking of a major highway.
Police arrested 28 people in clashes on Friday and Saturday in Mong Kok, as hundreds of crowds attempted to retake the cleared site on Kowloon's Nathan Road, without success.
The Occupy movement began on Sept. 28, when police use of tear-gas and pepper spray against umbrella-wielding demonstrators brought hundreds of thousands of citizens onto the streets in protest at the movement's height.
But Hong Kong officials have repeatedly told the protesters to leave, saying that Beijing won't withdraw an Aug. 31 decision ruling out public nomination of candidates in the 2017 election for the chief executive.
China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), said that while Hong Kong's five million voters will cast ballots to elect the next chief executive, they may only choose between two or three candidates approved by a pro-Beijing committee.'Fake universal suffrage'
Protesters and pan-democratic politicians, who currently only have around seven percent of the nominating committee vote compared with 56 percent of the popular vote in the last legislative election, have dismissed the proposed electoral reforms as "fake universal suffrage."
Meanwhile, the high-profile student leaders of the movement appear to be increasingly at odds with its founders, three middle-aged academics, who appear to favor more symbolic forms of resistance.
Law said that while not all Occupy protesters are students and not everyone agrees with the students' actions, the HKFS has a clear vision on which to base its next move.
"At the start of the year...the federation collected the opinions of students from Hong Kong's eight universities, and arrived at the consensus that everyone wants public nomination of election candidates," Law said.
He said students also overwhelmingly support the abolition of industry-based seats in Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo), known as "functional constituencies."
"The federation started out as a student organization that was there for students," Law said. "Now, it is there for the public as a whole."
Several hundred protesters remain in occupation on a major highway not far from government headquarters and at the busy shopping district of Causeway Bay, on Hong Kong Island.
They say they won't leave until the government responds to their demands, some of which include the resignation of embattled chief executive C.Y. Leung and the withdrawal of Beijing's Aug. 31 decision.Reported by RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.