HONG KONG - Pro-democracy protesters clashed Friday with groups of people opposed to their campaign to shut down swathes of Hong Kong, in an apparent backlash after days of anti-government demonstrations.
Frustrations boiled over in two of the city's busiest shopping districts, where anti-protester groups started to dismantle barricades that demonstrators have been manning in their battle for fully free elections in the Chinese-ruled territory.
It was not immediately clear whether the anti-protester groups were disgruntled local business people tired of the disruption or -- as some protesters alleged -- hired hands brought in to stir up trouble.
The tense scenes came after protesters earlier scuffled with police near government headquarters at the epicentre of the protest and as China said the demonstrators were "doomed to fail".
While the United States, Europe and Japan have all expressed their concern at the scenes playing out in one of the world's leading financial capitals, China insisted that there was "no room to make concessions on important principles".
Hong Kong's last British governor also weighed in, saying Beijing was "foolish" for not investing more trust in the city's seven million people.
Following a fifth night of rallies, crowds thinned out on Friday, leaving around 100 outside the government complex.
Demonstrators had set a midnight Thursday ultimatum for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to resign and for Beijing to abandon proposals under which it will vet candidates who want to stand for the chief executive's job in 2017 elections.
Leung refused to quit but in a dramatic televised appearance shortly before the midnight deadline, he appointed his deputy to sit down with a prominent students' group that has been at the vanguard of the protests.
There was no sign of the talks starting by Friday afternoon, however. And mistrust was rife that Leung was merely trying to buy time in the hope that the Hong Kong public will tyre of the disruption caused by the mass sit-ins, with businesses losing money, schools shut and bus routes severed.
"I think he is avoiding people who are voicing their views," Abigail Hon, 19, told AFP.
"From now on I am going to stay overnight. We hope that Leung can face the problem and respond to what we demand right now," she said, adding that she wants Leung to speak directly with the students.
But the Occupy Central protest group said it welcomed the talks, and hoped they would "provide a turning point in the current political stalemate".
Police pushed through around demonstrators who were blocking an exit at the government offices Friday morning, saying that a seriously ill officer needed to be let out in an ambulance. In chaotic scenes, protesters refused to move and shouted "liar, liar!"
Relations between protesters and police have deteriorated since tear-gas was fired to disperse crowds last Sunday and boxes carrying rubber bullets were seen being carried by officers Thursday.
Police finally barged their way through to make a path for the ambulance.