HONG KONG - A deadline for pro-democracy demonstrators to clear Hong Kong's streets fast approached Sunday, but the government said the door to dialogue was open after its Beijing-backed leader claimed the disorder now risked "serious consequences" for public safety.
On the mainland, Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily newspaper said in an editorial that the image of Hong Kong as a ruly city had been "ruined" as protests entered its eighth day.
University staff made an impassioned plea for students to head home as embattled Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said his administration was determined to "take all necessary actions to restore social order".
In particular he pointed to the need to allow government staff to resume work by Monday morning.
But with a few hundred on the streets it remained to be seen whether protesters had heeded the call or merely headed home for some rest before protesting again, which has been the pattern all week.
Leung said he was determined to clear the streets near the government offices in downtown Admiralty after two public holidays cut short the working week last week.
"We have to ensure the safety of government premises and restore their operation," Leung said in a televised address late Saturday.
"The most pressing task for the government is to reopen access to the CGO (Central Government Offices) on Monday so that some 3,000 CGO staff can return to their workplace and continue to provide services to the public."
Leung, who was voted into office by 689 people on a pro-Beijing committee numbering just 1,200 two years ago, issued an ominous warning if the protests are not ended.
"The situation may probably evolve into a state beyond control, and will have serious consequences to public safety and social order," he said.
Tens of thousands turned out on Saturday night in the biggest gathering yet of the week-long protest. Those few who were back on the streets Sunday said they had no intention of leaving.
'I'm not going to leave'
"I'm worried about the threat from CY, but I'm not going to leave because we are fighting for our values and genuine universal suffrage," Nixon Leung, a 22-year-old masters student at HKU, said.
"We must continue our fight. The government has not responded to our demands for civil nomination and for CY to step down, but have constantly asked us to retreat. We simply cannot accept that." Fears that the police were getting ready to move in sparked calls from university administrators urging students to leave protest sites for their own safety.
But many were not to be deterred.
"I saw police transporting bags of supplies that looked like riot gear into government headquarters," said Ivan Ha, a psychology student.
"But despite that, I'm going to stay until real dialogue happens, hopefully with CY," the 20-year-old added.
The protesters are demanding the right to nominate who can run as Hong Kong's next leader in 2017 elections.
The Communist government of China, which regained sovereignty over Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, insists that only pre-approved candidates will be able to stand and has repeatedly said the protests are doomed to fail.
Sunday marked exactly a week since police fired tear gas on protesters in an effort to disperse them, but only adding sympathy to their cause and boosting numbers.