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Hong Kong Protests Continue, 26 Hurt


The Hong Kong government said on Monday it has withdrawn riot police from city streets after pro-democracy protests began to calm down.

In a statement, a Hong Kong government spokesman also called on protesters to leave protest areas as peacefully as possible.

Hong Kong police used pepper spray, tear gas and baton charges in an attempt to disperse thousands of pro-democracy protesters in the center of the global financial hub at the weekend. At least 26 people were injured in the clashes.

The protest spread to the busy shopping district of Causeway Bay and across the harbor to Mong Kok, posing a greater challenge for authorities to contain.

Thousands of people demonstrated around the main Hong Kong government building, ignoring messages from student and pro-democracy leaders to retreat for fear that the police might fire rubber bullets.

The demonstrators are part of a mass civil disobedience movement calling for less political intervention from Beijing in the former British colony, now an autonomous region within the People's Republic of China.

Many in the crowd chanted slogans from beneath surgical masks to protect against further teargas.

The clashes came shortly after Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the government will launch a new round of talks on electoral reform. He gave no timeframe for consultations.

Pro-democracy activists were outraged after China ruled all candidates for the 2017 vote must be approved by a pro-Beijing committee.

‘With love and peace’

After months of threatening a massive sit-in, organizers of "Occupy Central with Love and Peace'' said early Sunday that the occupation of the streets outside government headquarters had officially begun.

The announcement came hours after riot police in Hong Kong arrested dozens of student protesters who forced their way into government headquarters late Saturday.

Authorities used pepper spray to disperse the protesters and hauled away those who refused to leave the square.

Outside the grounds, a large crowd of fellow students chanted at police and demanded that they stop arresting their comrades.

Police said several people suffered minor injuries in the clashes.

Thousands of university students abandoned classes all week to take part in the pro-democracy campaign.

Words of caution

Meanwhile, some Hong Kong financial firms advised staff to work from home on Monday or go to secondary offices after demonstrators clashed with police on Sunday, Reuters reported later Sunday.

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, whose offices overlook one of the main protest sites, told staff to "be cautious and avoid large gatherings" and advised managers to consider measures, including working from home, at clients' offices or at an alternative location, according to an email from the firm seen by Reuters.

Companies including consultants EY and CITIC Securities International, which are across the street from Hong Kong government headquarters where student activists started the protests, also told their staff to work remotely.

DBS Group Holdings, Singapore's biggest bank, will temporarily suspend services at its branch in the Admiralty neighborhood because of instability in the area, a bank spokesman said.

Pushing matches

At times on Sunday there were angry pushing matches between police armed with pepper spray and shields and protesters.

Pro-democracy protesters were also seen holding their hands in the air and repeatedly marching slowly toward police who fired tear gas outside government headquarters.

One student protestor called on the government to address days of demonstrations.

"I really hope that the government can come out to face the people. We have experienced five days of boycott of classes and two nights occupying here, we are not here to make disorder but to urge the government to face the people and students," the student said.

Work resumes on Monday in Hong Kong, and demonstrators are seeking to blockade parts of the city to protest recently revealed election guidelines from Beijing.

China's role in election

China said Hong Kong residents can elect their next leader in 2017, but they can only choose from a pool of only three candidates vetted by Beijing.

Demonstrators are calling for authorities to release protesters who have already been arrested and for true universal suffrage.

Pro-democracy advocate Edward Chin said, "So it's not the real democracy and they (Beijing) still want to remote control Hong Kong. But at the same time they are slowing planning about the reclaiming of Hong Kong prematurely."

On Sunday, Leung spoke to protesters for the first time since students began boycotting classes early last week. He pledged to soon hold talks on election reform, but did not give specifics.

Even if Leung hosts talks, it is unclear what difference that would make, as Beijing has already shown that it has the final say in such matters.

China has largely been silent about the protests, blocking any discussion of them online.

But on Sunday Beijing weighed in, saying it opposes all types of illegal behavior that undermine social stability.

In his remarks Sunday, Leung said the government would take “resolute” action against pro-democracy protesters if they refuse to stop what he called “illegal” efforts to blockade city streets.

But democracy activists in Hong Kong and members of the Occupy Central With Peace and Love Movement pledged to block the city’s financial district.

Protesters undeterred

Benny Tai, a co-founder of Occupy Central, that while police are responding with more force than they have in the past, protesters are not deterred.

“We will continue our fight," Tai said. "We continue our action. Even if we cannot achieve it within a short period we will stand firm.”

Joyce is a student at the University of Hong Kong. She said she joined the protests because the government has left them with no other choice.

“We have tried many methods to ask for the government to listen to our opinion, but it turned out they are not doing that," Joyce said.

When Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, the territory was guaranteed a high degree of autonomy and freedoms under a form of rule that is called “one country, two systems.”

Residents in Hong Kong already enjoy freedoms that do not exist in China, but many feel the situation is eroding.

William Ide contributed to this report from Beijing. Material for this report came from Reuters.