Hong Kong: Police armed with pepper spray and batons clashed with demonstrators in Hong Kong, as fears grew on Sunday that officials would move in to clear the streets of pro-democracy protesters and end the standoff for good.
Large crowds of protesters scuffled with police overnight in the blue-collar Mong Kok district in Kowloon, a flashpoint that has seen violent clashes between pro-democracy student protesters and their antagonists over the weekend.
Police said the crowds had provoked officers with verbal abuse, while the students accuse police of failing to protect them from attacks by mobs intent on driving them away.
The students claim that police had allied with criminal gangs to clear them, but the government has vehemently denied it
As the protests entered their eighth day today, the atmosphere on the streets was tense amid fears police may use pepper spray and tear gas to disperse them, as they did last weekend.
The city's top leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, appeared on television yesterday evening to once again urge everyone to go home, saying key roads paralysed by protesters need to return to normal by tomorrow.
"The government and the police have the duty and determination to take all necessary actions to restore social order so the government and the 7 million people of Hong Kong can return to their normal work and life," Leung said.
Tens of thousands of people, many students, have taken to the streets in the past week to protest China's restrictions on the election for the city's top leader. The protests are the strongest challenge to the authorities in Hong Kong and in Beijing since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Beijing has promised that the city can have universal suffrage by 2017, but it says a committee of mostly pro-Beijing figures must screen candidates for the top job. The protesters are also demanding Leung's resignation, but he has refused.
The next steps are uncertain, after student leaders called off planned talks with the government until officials respond to claims that police tolerated attacks by alleged mobsters. Police had earlier arrested 19 people in the brawls in Mong Kok, including eight men believed to have backgrounds linked to triads, or organized crime.