Hong Kong: Hong Kong students on Monday began a week-long boycott of classes, gathering in their thousands for what democracy activists say will be a wider campaign of civil disobedience against China's refusal to grant the city unfettered democracy.
Student activists crowded onto a campus on the northern outskirts of the city, many sheltering from the hot summer sun under umbrellas and waving their faculty flags, as their leaders vowed to ratchet up their campaign if their demands were not met.
Democracy campaigners are locked in a showdown with authorities on the mainland after the former British colony's hopes for full universal suffrage were dashed by Beijing's plans to vet nominees who want to stand as its next leader.
A coalition of pro-democracy groups in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, led by Occupy Central, have labelled the restrictions a "fake democracy". They have vowed a series of actions including a blockade of the Central financial district.
The city's vocal student community today became the first wing of that coalition to move from protests to direct action -- starting a week of class boycotts designed to capture the public's imagination and bolster the pro-democracy fight.
"I don't think the Chinese government is trying to protect our rights so now we are coming out to fight for our basic needs," 20-year-old architecture student Wu Tsz-wing told AFP as she gathered with what organisers said were 13,000 others on the leafy campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
There was no estimate given by police, who usually quote much lower numbers during similar protests.
Arika Ho, a second-year Hong Kong University journalism student, added: "I want this place (Hong Kong) to be a better place, so I want to stand up and join with others collectively to force some changes."
Alex Chow, chairman of the influential Hong Kong Federation of Students, said student groups would intensify their protests if their call for Hong Kongers to nominate their own candidate to lead the city is ignored.
"We demand the government to respond to our call to endorse civil nominations," he told the crowd.
"If we hear nothing from them, the students, the people will definitely upgrade the movement to another level," Chow shouted.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong has become a regular gathering point for students agitating for greater democratic freedoms in the city.
The campus boasts a replica of the "Goddess of Democracy" statue which students gathered around during the 1989 Tiananmen protests in Beijing that were brutally crushed by the state.