Sep 28, 2014 3:11 AM

HK democracy activists defy police in standoff

The Associated Press

HONG KONG (AP) A tense standoff between thousands of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters and police warning of a crackdown spiraled into an extraordinary scene of chaos Sunday as the crowd jammed a busy road and clashed with officers wielding pepper spray.

A huge crowd of protesters tried to reach a mass sit-in being held outside government headquarters to demand Beijing grant genuine democratic reforms to the former British colony, but was held back by police who had warned people to leave the area for their own safety.

Beijing condemned the protests, calling them "illegal."

Students and activists have been camped out on the streets outside the government complex all weekend. Students started the rally, but by early Sunday leaders of the broader Occupy Central civil disobedience movement said they were joining them to kick-start a long-threatened mass sit-in.

In a rare scene of disorder in the Asian financial hub, thousands of other protesters arriving to join the crowd breached a police cordon, spilling out onto a busy highway and causing traffic to come to a standstill. Protesters raised their hands in the air to signal their nonviolent intentions, and at one point cleared a narrow path for vehicles to get through.

The huge crowd of people trying to get to protest zone was met by police officers manning barricades who doused them with pepper spray carried in backpacks. The demonstrators, who tried at one point to rip apart metal barricades, carried umbrellas to deflect the spray from police, who were wearing helmets and respirators.

The protesters reject Beijing's recent decision to restrict voting reforms for the first-ever elections to choose Hong Kong's leader in 2017.

Police told those involved in what they call an illegal gathering to leave the scene as soon as possible, warning that otherwise they would begin to clear the area and make arrests.

Police said they had arrested 78 people since demonstrations started late Friday, though all but three were released.

Hong Kong's leader, Leung Chun-ying, said the city's government was "resolute in opposing the unlawful occupation" of the government offices or the financial district by Occupy Central.

"The police are determined to handle the situation appropriately in accordance with the law," he said at a news conference.

The Chinese government agency that handles Hong Kong affairs condemned the protests.

"China's central government firmly opposes illegal acts taking place in Hong Kong," and fully supports the local government in handling the matter according to the law, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council as saying.

Protest organizers said police took away several pro-democracy legislators who were among the demonstrators.

Among the protesters was media magnate Jimmy Lai, who owns the popular Apple Daily, Hong Kong's sole pro-democracy newspaper.


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