HONG KONG - Striking students began marching on Hong Kong's financial district Wednesday, taking their protest for greater democratic rights to the city's commercial centre for the first time.
Student groups are currently spearheading a civil disobedience campaign by a coalition of democracy activists protesting against a recent decision by Beijing to vet who can stand for the city's top post at the next election.
University students began a week-long class boycott on Monday, rallying a crowd that organisers said was 13,000-strong on a campus in the north of the city and breathing new life into a movement that had been stunned by Beijing's hardline stance.
On Tuesday the students moved their protest to a public park outside the legislature of the semi-autonomous Chinese city, briefly mobbing Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying as he exited the building.
Around 300 students gathered for the start of the march, an AFP reporter said.
Messages relayed by student leaders to supporters and the press early Wednesday showed plans for a circular march beginning at 3pm (0700 GMT) and ending in Tamar Park via the city's Central district, where many major international companies are based.
Occupy Central, the largest of the pro-democracy groups, has vowed to take over Central if its demand that Hong Kongers be allowed to nominate candidates for leader is not met.
Last month China said Hong Kongers would for the first time be allowed to vote for their leader at the 2017 election, but that only two or three candidates approved by a pro-Beijing committee would be allowed to stand.
The students are not expected to engage in direct action during Wednesday's march.
Federation of Students leader Alex Chow has given Leung until Thursday morning to meet their delegates. If Leung refuses, Chow said, students would then ratchet up their actions.
Occupy co-founder Benny Tai has hinted that the takeover of Central could begin on October 1, a national holiday when much of the district will be empty.
"While others are celebrating the big day of the country, we will set up a grand banquet in Central to fight for Hong Kong's democracy," he wrote in the Apple Daily tabloid earlier this week, a comment that local media widely tipped as a reference to October 1.
Tai has previously said his movement needs to tread a fine line between active civil disobedience and keeping the city's pro-business locals onside.
The students plan to keep their protest in the park opposite the city's legislature going until at least Friday with a series of public lectures and speeches.