Riot police shot pepper spray and tear gas at protesters at the weekend but withdrew on Monday to ease tension as the ranks of demonstrators swelled. Protesters spent the night sleeping or holding vigil unharassed on normally busy roads in the global financial hub.
Throughout the night, rumors rippled through crowds of protesters that police were preparing to move in again. As the sun rose many remained wary, especially on the eve of Wednesday’s anniversary of the Communist Party’s foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
“Many powerful people from the mainland will come to Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government won’t want them to see this, so the police must do something,” Sui-ying Cheng, 18, a freshman at Hong Kong University’s School of Professional and Continuing Education, said of the National Day holiday.
“We are not scared. We will stay here tonight. Tonight is the most important,” she said.
The protesters, mostly students, are demanding full democracy and have called on the city’s leader Leung Chun-ying to step down after Beijing on Aug. 31 ruled out free elections for Hong Kong’s leader, known as the Chief Executive, in 2017.
China rules Hong Kong under a “one country, two systems” formula that accords the former British colony a degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, with universal suffrage set as an eventual goal.
Protesters massed in at least four of Hong Kong’s busiest areas, including Admiralty, where Hong Kong’s government is headquartered, the Central business district, Causeway Bay, one of the city’s most bustling shopping areas, and the densely populated Mong Kok district in Kowloon.
Organizers said as many as 80,000 people thronged the streets after the protests flared on Friday night. No independent estimate of numbers was available.
“I must stress that the events happening now cannot be attributed to the students or Occupy Central. It has evolved into a civil movement,” said Alex Chow, the leader of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.
Protesters set up supply stations with water bottles, fruit, crackers, disposable raincoats, towels, goggles, face masks and tents, indicating they were in for the long haul.
Some lugged metal road barricades into positions on the edge of crowds, presumably to slow a police advance. In at least one location, several minivans and a truck were parked in rows in an apparent effort to block a road- Reuters