Hong Kong: Protesters defiant amid stand-off

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters are blocking Hong Kong’s streets, shutting down the territory’s business hub and ignoring appeals to leave.

Crowds remained on the streets overnight after a day that saw riot police deploy tear gas and batons in a bid to disperse them.

On Monday, the Hong Kong government said riot police were being withdrawn as people had “mostly calmed down”.

But some banks and schools were closed, and there was transport chaos.

Protesters – a mix of students and supporters of the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement – are angry at Beijing’s plans to vet candidates for Hong Kong’s 2017 leadership elections.

They want a free choice of candidates when they cast their ballots for the chief executive – something Beijing says is out of the question.

Sunday saw angry scenes and dozens of arrests on Hong Kong’s streets as tens of thousands of protesters faced riot police in the heart of the city.

Many of them remained camped out around the government complex overnight, some erecting barricades.

About 3,000 people have also blocked a major road across the bay in Mongkok while a crowd of about 1,000 faced police in the busy shopping district of Causeway Bay, east of central Hong Kong.

Overnight, Hong Kong’s chief executive reassured the public that rumours the Chinese army might intervene were untrue.

“I hope the public will keep calm. Don’t be misled by the rumours,” CY Leung said.

The government urged protesters to stay calm and leave peacefully.

Schools in three districts have been closed and the city remains heavily disrupted, with several major thoroughfares blocked.

In other developments:

  • More than 200 bus routes have been cancelled or diverted; some subway exits in protest areas have been blocked
  • Several banks have suspended operations in affected areas
  • Police said they arrested 78 people on Sunday, after 70 arrests on Saturday.
  • In the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, a group of protesters gathered outside the Hong Kong cultural office in a show of support
  • President Ma Ying-jeou said Taiwan was closely watching the situation in Hong Kong
  • In mainland China, reports say Instagram has been blocked, it is thought due to the protests’Sorrow over chaos’Tensions escalated on Sunday when the broader Occupy Central protest movement threw its weight behind student-led protests, bringing forward a mass civil disobedience campaign due to start on Wednesday.

    In a statement on Monday, the movement called on Mr Leung to step down, saying “only this will make it possible to re-launch the political reform process and create a space in which the crisis can be defused”.

    China, which stations a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Hong Kong, said it was confident the city’s administration could handle the protests.