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Hong Kong Police Warn Protesters Not To Occupy Government Buildings

Student protesters in Hong Kong resist during a change of shift for local police but backed down after being reassured they could reoccupy the pavement outside the government compound's gate.
Wong Maye-E AP
Student protesters in Hong Kong resist during a change of shift for local police but backed down after being reassured they could reoccupy the pavement outside the government compound's gate.

Updated at 7:45 a.m. ET

Police in Hong Kong and China's state media are warning pro-democracy protesters not to try to occupy government buildings in what would be a major escalation to more than a week of student-led protests that have drawn tens of thousands onto the streets.

The Associated Press reports: "Late Thursday afternoon, hundreds of young protesters crowded in front of the gate to the government headquarters, spilling around the sides of the huge building and across the street. Many donned face masks and goggles, some had gas masks and rain capes - all precautions in case police might use tear gas and pepper spray, as they did last weekend to try to disperse demonstrators."

The South China Morning Post, quoting a police source, said boxes of firearms for tear gas and rubber bullets appeared to be among the items moved into government headquarters on Thursday. Photos that appeared on Facebook appeared to confirm that.

The tense standoff came as a second deadline set by protesters for the resignation of Hong Kong's leader, Leung Chun-ying, and for his successor to be chosen in an open election, came and went.

The AP notes: "Both the Chinese government and the student protesters seemed to be losing patience after the weeklong street protests, the biggest challenge to Beijing's authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997."

NPR's Anthony Kuhn, reporting from Hong Kong, says state media is warning of "chaos" if the protests escalate.

Hong Kong Police Chief Superintendent Hui Chun-tak told reporters Thursday: "We stress that police will not tolerate any illegal surrounding of government buildings."

After more than a week of protests, student activists are still considering possible next moves, including occupying government offices. Pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Ho tells Anthony that in any event, the protesters won't back down just because they are hot and tired.

"No one can persuade the demonstrators to leave without achieving anything material, so as to enable them to consider retreating with dignity," Ho said.

Hui says police won't rule out "appropriate force" if the situation escalates. However, The SCMP quotes him as saying the police would not use tear gas against protesters, after their heavy-handed tactics on Sunday generated public condemnation.

The official People's Daily newspaper compared the protests in Hong Kong to the Arab Spring and the Eastern Europe's color revolutions, which it said were instigated by Western governments.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.