HONG KONG - Thousands of protesters regrouped in central Hong Kong on Friday to push their call for democracy, a day after the government called off talks with students amid a two-week standoff that has shaken communist China's capitalist hub.
Scores arrived with tents, suggesting they were in for the long haul despite a call by police to remove obstacles that have blocked major roads in and out of the financial centre, causing traffic and commuter chaos with tail-backs stretching for miles.
Police said they would take action at an appropriate time, without specifying what. "I've just set up camp here under the bridge and I will come down to occupy whenever I can," said Wong Lai-wa, 23.
"I may have to go back to school during the day, but I will make every effort to come back."
The protesters are well equipped to sit it out, with supply stations stocked with essentials such as water, biscuits, noodles and cereals. They also have makeshift showers and dozens of tents already pitched where they can sleep.
"Everyone is trying to create his own space, or to defend his own position," said Travis Chu, sitting with four friends in the Admiralty district.
"Even though it seems things are in a bottleneck now, all we can do is to stay on and continue the occupation."
Admiralty is home to government offices next to the Central business district, giving the name to the "Occupy Central"movement, which has combined with the student protests to try to push the government to introduce universal suffrage.
The crowd had built to over 1,000 in the gritty, crowded suburb of Mong Kok, on the Kowloon side of the harbour, scene of some of the most violent clashes between protesters and police and pro-Beijing groups last week.
The government's decision on Thursday to call off the talks with students came as democratic lawmakers demanded anti-graft officers investigate a $6.4 million business payout to the city's pro-Beijing leader, Leung Chun-ying, while in office.
Australia's Fairfax Media this week revealed the business payout to Leung by an Australian engineering company.
China rules the former British colony through a "one country, two systems" formula which allows wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland and specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal.
But Beijing ruled in August it would screen candidates who want to run for the city's election for a chief executive in 2017, which democracy activists said rendered the notion of universal suffrage meaningless.
Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said the talks with the students were off because of the strident demands for universal suffrage, which she said was not in accordance with the city's mini-constitution, and because of their "illegal" occupation of parts of the city and calls for people to rally.
"SOMETHING WE HAVE TO DO"
China has also branded the protests illegal and on Friday criticised the US Congress for sending the "wrong message" to demonstrators with its encouragement in a "deliberate attack" on China.
The annual report to US Congress by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, released on Thursday, said the United States should increase support for democracy in Hong Kong and push for universal suffrage.
Scenes of tear gas wafting between some of the world's most valuable buildings, violent clashes, mass disruptions to business and commuter chaos have underscored the challenges Beijing faces in imposing its will on Hong Kong.
Protest numbers have dwindled to just a few hundred people at sites around the city, but activists have managed to keep up their blockade of some major roads, to the frustration of some city residents. "This is something we have to do when we are young. It's a process of short-term pain for long-term gain," said John Wong, an 18-year-old university student.
One student leader said the protesters would consider lifting their blocks on some roads if the government let them use Civic Square, a grassy area next to government headquarters in Admiralty, media reported.
While the largely young crowds sit it out on the streets, their democratic lawmaker allies are stepping up pressure on the city government.
On Thursday, they threatened to veto some government funding applications, although none that affect people's daily lives, as they step up their civil disobedience campaign and try to paralyse government operations.