HONG KONG - Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders on Monday angrily denied claims by the city's Chief Executive that more than three weeks of mass rallies in the Asian financial hub are being orchestrated by "external forces".
In a television interview broadcast on Sunday evening, embattled city leader Leung Chun Ying blamed foreign forces for the ongoing protests but refused to identify them.
The claims sparked ridicule from democracy leaders, who insist their movement is fuelled by local demands for greater democratic freedoms and growing discontent at increased inequality.
In a sarcastic post on his Facebook page on Monday, teenage student leader Joshua Wong said: "My links with foreign countries are limited to my Korean cellphone, my American computer and my Japanese Gundam (an animated series featuring robots). And of course, all of these are 'Made in China'."
Mr Alex Chow, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, denied the claims and called on Mr Leung to give concrete examples showing why he believed the protests were not locally inspired.
"He clearly wants to attack the movement by labelling it a colour revolution. But as a chief executive, who is accountable to the public, I hope he will produce evidence to back up such accusations," he told reporters late on Sunday.
Parts of Hong Kong have been paralysed by mass rallies and road blockades demanding free elections in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, in one of the biggest challenges to Beijing's authority since the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests of 1989.
Beijing has offered Hong Kongers the chance to vote for their next leader in 2017 but only those vetted by a loyalist committee will be allowed to stand - something protesters have labelled as "fake democracy".
Talks to end the impasse are slated for late on Tuesday between student leaders and senior government officials. But there are fears any further clashes between police and protesters could derail those discussions.
After more than a fortnight of largely peaceful mass rallies, tensions have soared after protesters clashed with police trying to clear some of the major intersections that demonstrators control.
Overnight there was no violence at the three protests sites where protesters hold sway - the first peaceful period in four days.
The working-class district of Mongkok, which has seen the worst of the violence, was largely calmed by the presence of two popular pro-democracy lawmakers who placed themselves between police and protester lines.
During his interview with ATV Leung said protests had got "out of hand" and called for "a peaceful and a meaningful end to this problem". But he also accused the movement of taking their cue from outsiders.
"I shan't go into details, but this is not entirely a domestic movement," he said.
His comments echoed Chinese state media, which has repeatedly alleged that "anti-China forces" such as the United States are manipulating the protesters, while Beijing has warned against foreign meddling in what it says is an internal affair.
Commentaries on the mainland have also increasingly described the Hong Kong protests as a "colour revolution" - a term used by Beijing for political movements funded by international forces.