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Occupy Central Movement Builds in Hong Kong


Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong continued to defy China on Monday despite calls for them to disperse.

Thousands of protesters have taken over the usually busy streets in key parts of the Asian financial hub.

Beijing has warned against foreign interference and condemns the pro-democracy protests.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying defiantly told a news briefing in Beijing, "Hong Kong is China's Hong Kong."

Hua said China firmly opposes "any form of support" by foreign countries for what it said were "illegal" protests.

A Hong Kong State Council and Macao Affairs office statement published in China's Global Times newspaper said the central government "strongly opposes illegal behavior in Hong Kong that threatens social order and stability."

A government spokesperson added that the central government believes Hong Kong officials can manage the situation and are responding legally.

US, British reaction

The White House said Monday the United States is closely watching the situation in Hong Kong and supports freedom of assembly and expression. It urged authorities there to show restraint and called for protesters to be peaceful.

The White House also said the legitimacy of Hong Kong's chief executive would be enhanced after the elections if the territory's residents had a genuine choice of candidates.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday, “The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the basic law and we support the aspirations of the Hong Kong people.”

U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said, “I sympathize with the protesters - students and residents of Hong Kong - who feel that Beijing’s decision will further erode their rights and freedoms.

"I believe that this protest is not just about election mechanics; it is about Hong Kong’s future as an open society under Beijing’s ‘one country, two systems’ regime," Engel added.

Britain called for "constructive" talks that would lead to a "meaningful advance for democracy."

Police pulled back

Hong Kong authorities gave a rare show of force Sunday and early Monday morning as they battled with protesters. Scenes of the standoff broadcast live online were filled with chaotic scenes and tear-gas fueled clashes.

On Monday, however, riot police withdrew and the situation calmed.

WATCH: Raw video interviews with student protesters in Hong Kong

Raw Video: Interview with Hong Kong Student Protesters
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The Hong Kong government has repeatedly urged protesters to peacefully withdraw, but the defiant rally against a recent ruling on electoral reform from Beijing shows no signs of waning.

The Occupy Central rally is a top trending topic on Twitter online. One picture showed protesters sitting and passing around homemade desserts and others holding flowers as a sign of peace.

Some online users have begun to refer to the movement as the Umbrella Revolution because of how protesters have used the devices as shields against pepper spray used by police.

Just how long the protesters can hold the downtown areas remains unclear, as well as whether authorities may step up the pressure again.

But as the demonstrations have continued, many locals are reaching out to support those camped out.

Protesters receive support

Hungry protesters applauded when food arrived and pictures online showed large stockpiles of water donated by citizens in support of the movement piling up on city streets.

Milky is an office worker and has been delivering goods to show her support. She said the effort was not organized, but self-driven.

“People circulate news through Facebook, Twitter, and different kinds of social networks, telling all of the people at home or other places what they need. So we know what they need and we will buy the target material and deliver it here," Milky said.

"Some people are not really able to be sitting here, so sometimes before they work, they buy stuff and then deliver it here. Or I have a friend who even used his lunch time to buy some goggles and deliver it to Admiralty [one key location of the protests]."

Some put together makeshift tents with plastic pipes and wood as protesters geared up for a lengthier battle to maintain their blockade of some of the city’s main thruways.

Jay is a computer studies student at the University of Hong Kong. He said his parents did not support the protests, but he felt a duty to be there.

“I am expecting our chief executive can come out and talk. As a political leader, he should stand up and be unafraid of us. Because we give them money to hire them, so they need to listen to our voice and do things for us. But he didn’t. He only listens to the central government,” Jay said.

Tiananmen comparison

The massive display of defiance against Beijing in Hong Kong has already been compared by some to the pro-democracy, 1989 Tiananmen Square protests that led to a brutal government crackdown.

The Hong Kong government said it would not call on the People’s Liberation Army soldiers stationed in the city state to respond to the protests. There are concerns that if the situation continues to build a similar response could be used.

For now, China is allowing local authorities in Hong Kong to handle the situation.

But at least one Chinese scholar has already suggested in state media that Beijing could send in China’s armed police if Hong Kong authorities cannot control protesters.

When asked about concerns of a Tiananmen-style crackdown, Jay, the computer science student, said he was not worried.

“I don’t think so, because now the media in Hong Kong still has freedom. Freedom of information in Hong Kong is also free. Also, because of the globalization, I think if the Hong Kong government or the central government in Beijing, if they do this sort of thing, America, Britain will come out and help us,” he said.

British handover of Hong Kong

When China and Britain set up the handover of Hong Kong from British colonial rule in 1997, the port city was given guarantees that it would not be stripped of the freedoms citizens already enjoyed.

Many feel those freedoms are eroding in Hong Kong as China exerts more influence over it. A recent decision by China to only allow a pro-Beijing committee select candidates when Hong Kong elects its next leader in 2017 has prompted students and pro-democracy advocates to take to the streets in protest.

The protests against the decision are peaking this week as China gears up to celebrate its National Day holiday, which starts Wednesday.

However, Hong Kong authorities announced Monday that they had canceled fireworks for public safety and transportation reasons.

Pros Laput contributed to this report from Hong Kong, VOA's China branch also contributed to this report.