HONG KONG - Hong Kong riot police used pepper spray to disperse protesters around government headquarters on Saturday, fuelling tension ahead of a planned sit-in by pro-democracy activists to protest against Beijing's tightening grip on the city.
Clashes through the night between police and demonstrators underscore the challenges China faces in shaping its vision for Hong Kong's political future as a restive younger generation challenges its influence in the former British colony.
Several people suffered minor injuries.
Hundreds of students and demonstrators had forced their way past a police cordon and scaled perimeter fences at government headquarters, close to Hong Kong's financial district, on Friday in the culmination of a week-long rally to demand free elections in the Asian financial centre.
Several thousand protesters massed on streets outside the headquarters in support of those who had stormed inside, shouting "retreat, retreat, retreat" as police advanced and tried to stop them charging.
Many protesters used umbrellas to shield them from pepper spray, while those who got hit used water to rinse their eyes.
"I paid my highest respect to every soldier who defends till the last moment ... civil disobedience, it continues to happen," student leader Lester Shum said on his Facebook page.
Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under a formula known as "one country, two systems", with a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China. Universal suffrage was set as an eventual goal.
But Beijing last month rejected demands for people to freely choose the city's next leader in 2017, prompting threats from activists to shut down the Central financial district in a so-called Occupy Central campaign. China wants to limit elections to a handful of candidates loyal to Beijing.
Shum, along with Hong Kong Federation of Students leader Alex Chow, was among those who had occupied the so-called Civic Square and refused to leave despite police warnings. About 30 protesters remained in sweltering heat on Saturday.
Some students dozed in the heat as members of the public shouted supportive messages through the gate.
"We are here, you are not alone," a man in his 40s yelled.
SIX PEOPLE ARRESTED
Leaders of the Occupy movement arrived to show their support. They plan a blockade on Oct. 1, a holiday, that organizers hope will escalate into one of most disruptive protests seen for decades.
The clashes were the most heated so far in a series of anti-Beijing protests. Police arrested six people, including teenage student leader Joshua Wong, who was dragged away by police, kicking, screaming and bleeding from his arm, after he called on the protesters to charge the government premises.
"Hong Kong's future belongs to you, you and you," Wong, a thin 17-year-old with dark-rimmed glasses and bowl-cut hair, told cheering supporters before he was taken away.
"I want to tell C.Y. Leung and Xi Jinping that the mission of fighting for universal suffrage does not rest upon the young people, it is everyone's responsibility," he shouted, referring to Hong Kong's and China's leaders.
"I don't want the fight for democracy to be passed down to the next generation. This is our responsibility."
The protest came after more than 1,000 school pupils rallied peacefully to support university students demanding democracy, capping a week-long campaign that has seen classroom strikes and a large cut-out depicting the city's leader as the devil paraded in public.
The government said in a statement it found it regrettable that demonstrators tried to forcibly enter the compound, causing injuries to government officers, security staff and demonstrators.