HONG KONG - Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters clashed with police in the densely populated district of Mong Kok early on Thursday as tensions escalated at one of three remaining demonstration sites for the first time in more than two weeks.
Dozens of police armed with batons and shields swept into the area where hundreds of protesters were gathered and scuffles broke out after 2am local time in the gritty district that has become a flashpoint for ugly street brawls.
More than 30 people wearing grinning masks of Guy Fawkes, who plotted to kill a British king in 1605 and who has become a symbol of anti-capitalist protests, joined the demonstrators who are calling for greater democracy in the former British colony.
The protesters, led by a restive generation of students, have been demanding China's Communist Party rulers live up to constitutional promises to grant full democracy to the city which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
In August, Beijing offered Hong Kong people the chance to vote for their own leader in 2017, but said only two to three candidates could run after getting backing from a 1,200-person "nominating committee" stacked with Beijing loyalists.
On Wednesday, Regina Ip, a former Hong Kong security chief and a top adviser to the city's embattled leader proposed members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students be given seats on the committee, broadcaster RTHK reported.
Students are hoping to take their protest to Communist Party rulers in Beijing and are expected to announce details of their new battle plan on Thursday.
Pro-democracy activists plan to march on Sunday from the heart of the city's financial centre to the Chinese central government's liaison office in Hong Kong.
For more than a month, key roads leading into Hong Kong's most economically and politically important districts have been barricaded with wood and steel by protesters.
The protests drew well over 100,000 at their peak and are now concentrated in two key areas - the district of Admiralty next to government buildings and across the harbour in Mong Kok. A handful of protesters remain in the bustling shopping district of Causeway Bay.
Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying signalled on Tuesday that a much-anticipated plan to link the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock markets had been delayed as a result of the protests and urged society to pull together to restore order in the city.