Hong Kong: Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters demanded the city`s embattled leader heed their ultimatum to resign Thursday, but China backed him "firmly and unshakably" and pledged support for the police.
Demonstrators, who have shut down central areas of the southern Chinese city with a mass sit-in, have given Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying until midnight to step down, or face escalated action.
But Beijing put its weight behind Leung with an editorial in Communist Party mouthpiece the People`s Daily Thursday warning against chaos in the city.
"Central government will continue to firmly and unshakably support legal measures and policies taken by administration leader C.Y. Leung, and... the police of the special territory in handling these illegal protests according to the law," it said.
The comment piece accused pro-democracy group Occupy Central of violating Hong Kong`s laws and said the city would "fall into chaos" if the situation is not dealt with.
Days of peaceful demonstrations have seen tens of thousands of people take over usually traffic-heavy streets in Hong Kong as they demand Beijing grant fully free elections in the semi-autonomous city.
Beijing`s latest comments came after China`s foreign minister issued a stern warning to the United States not to meddle in its "internal affairs".
"All countries should respect China`s sovereignty and this is a basic principle of governing international relations," Wang Yi told US Secretary of State John Kerry at a press conference.
Kerry replied urging Hong Kong authorities to "exercise restraint and respect the protesters` right to express their views peacefully".
The demonstrators consider Leung a Beijing stooge and protest leaders want Thursday`s ultimatum to be met.
"We will consider having different operating actions in future days, including occupying other places like important government offices," said Agnes Chow of student movement Scholarism.Some analysts say it is unlikely that Leung will step down, in what would be a massive loss of face for the establishment.
"If Beijing forces him to resign, they will be seen to be buckling under pressure from the protesters. They might give out signals that he has been sidelined, but the likelihood of his immediate dismissal... is not very high," said Willy Lam, a China scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
However Lam added that the longer the protests affect Hong Kong, the more pressure Chinese president Xi Jinping will be under to act.
"If he is seen as failing to control a state of anarchy for more than two or three weeks he will be exposed to criticism (from within the Communist Party) and in that case sacking C.Y. becomes a possibility."
The protesters are furious at the central government`s refusal to allow free elections for the city`s next leader in 2017. Beijing has said only two or three candidates vetted by a loyalist committee will be permitted to stand.
Protesters have labelled the proposal "fake democracy" and have demanded Leung step down and Beijing reverse its decision.
In a movement being dubbed the "umbrella revolution" -- a nod to the umbrellas they have used to protect themselves against pepper spray, the sun and torrential downpours alike -- the protesters have brought key parts of the city to a standstill, heavily disrupting the transport network and shutting down businesses.
Since police tear-gassed protesters Sunday, calls for Leung to step down have intensified.
"We are hoping that they will find someone else who has a better ability to push through real democratic elections and help Hong Kong take the next step in its democratic development," said Vincent Lam, 19, who works as a sound engineer.
Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, told BBC radio the entire situation had been "very, very badly mishandled", calling on authorities to enter into consultation with demonstrators.
The protests pose a huge political challenge for Beijing at a time when the Communist Party is cracking down hard on dissent on the mainland.
Authorities have scrubbed mentions of the protests from Chinese social media, while rights groups say more than a dozen activists have been detained and as many as 60 others questioned for expressing support for the Hong Kong crowds.
In a sign of Beijing`s growing unease, a local tourism leader said Chinese travel agents were reporting that group visits to the city had been suspended.
October 1-7 is known as "Golden Week" in mainland China, a key shopping holiday that usually sees many travel to Hong Kong.