Hundreds of high-schoolers in Hong Kong boycotted class on Friday, backing a week-long strike launched by university students in support of a pro-democracy campaign in the former British colony.
The students held a series of open-air "citizens' classrooms" in Tamar Park as some 3,000 protesters wearing white shirts and sporting the pro-democracy movement's iconic yellow ribbons nearby staged a sit-in outside central government offices in downtown Hong Kong.
Shouting slogans like "National People's Congress, stay out of it!" and "We want public nomination!" the students continued a series of protests at Beijing's decision to limit electoral reforms that began on Monday with a 13,000-strong rally at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
"My parents know I'm boycotting class, but I didn't inform the school," a third-year secondary school student told RFA. "I am willing to accept any punishment from the school; maybe they'll count it as playing truant."
A sixth-form student from a secondary school in Tuen Mun said neither their parents nor the school knew they were taking part.
"My mother was really angry, calling me up and asking me where I am," the student said. "Then she told me the school had called her up saying they were going to punish me."
"Actually, I'm a bit worried and scared now," the student said.
Numbers swelled in the afternoon, while many of those present were adults and parents looking out for the young protesters' safety.
Hong Kong Legislative Councillor and Civic Party chairwoman Audrey Eu told RFA that the students have considerable support among ordinary citizens.
"This is a totally peaceful protest they are staging, according to my understanding," Eu said. "A lot of people are extremely worried, because the question of political reform isn't just a matter for the adults."
"It's very moving to see them sitting down on the streets in this tremendous heat, which is very uncomfortable, especially to sit here for several hours," she said.
"But the students are also very peaceful, and I think they are very mature, and they all know why they have come here," Eu added.
Joshua Wong, a spokesman for the academic action group Scholarism, said more students had showed up for the high-school strike than the group had expected.
"They have to pay a much higher price for their activism than university students do," Wong said. "They run the risk of punishment, or being scolded by their families."
"I feel very encouraged to see so many of them taking part in the boycott," said Wong, who has denied allegations by the pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po newspaper that he is spearheading the infiltration of Hong Kong schools by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Wong's colleague Agnes Chow said she had predicted a turnout of just a couple of hundred secondary school pupils.
"We are very happy, because we didn't expect this," she said. But she denied the reports that overseas influences had "incited" the students to boycott class.
"This movement wasn't incited by the outside world," Chow said. "They are capable of independent thought, and they are giving up precious time in class to attend this gathering."
The high-school protest comes after some 200 students camped outside the home of chief executive C.Y. Leung on Thursday night after he ignored a 48-hour ultimatum to meet them to discuss growing public demands for genuine universal suffrage.
China's National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee ruled on Aug. 31 that while the territory's next chief executive would be chosen by popular vote in 2017, candidates must be vetted by a 1,200-strong pro-Beijing committee.
Beijing's ruling came after an unofficial Occupy Central referendum drew some 800,000 votes in favor of public nomination, which were later dismissed by officials as having "no basis in law."
Veteran activist and democratic lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, known by his nickname "Long Hair," said many people in Hong Kong support the students' protest.
"This boycott isn't only about the students; their protest is one platform for the civil disobedience movement," Leung told RFA on Friday.
"We should stand together to fight for our goal."
He said adults in Hong Kong inhabit a "cooler, more rational world," however.
"The young people are full of protest, while the older generations are a lot more hesitant," Leung said. "There is hope, and yet things are looking worse than they were before."
On Monday, Chinese president Xi Jinping told a group of Hong Kong's richest business tycoons that anyone seeking election in the 2017 race for chief executive must be "patriotic."
Under proposals for electoral reform ahead of that poll, all of Hong Kong's five million eligible voters will get a vote, but the vetting process for candidates makes the nomination of anyone from the city's vocal pan-democratic camp highly unlikely.
Pan-democratic politicians and campaigners have dismissed the plan as "fake universal suffrage."
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.