Clashes have broken out at the site of one of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests as local residents and pro-Beijing supporters tried to evict activists from the street they are occupying.
The two groups started pushing and shoving in a tense stand-off as police tried to keep them apart in Kowloon’s crowded Mong Kok neighbourhood.
The democracy activists linked hands as they tried to stand their ground against the huge crowd. At one point, police brought in a stretcher to take away a young man.
Earlier, the crowds of pro-democracy protesters had dwindled sharply after the territory’s chief executive agreed to meet their leaders over their demands for electoral reforms.
An afternoon thunderstorm – and sheer exhaustion after the week-long protests - also appeared to keep many people off the streets.
Protesters and police scuffled briefly as officers forced demonstrators back to clear a path for an ambulance leaving the sprawling government compound, the focal point of the protests. The complex remained closed because mostly student protesters had blocked entrances, keeping civil servants from getting inside.
In other areas, police removed barricades as people returned to work and school after a two-day holiday.
It is unclear if the shrinking crowds signalled fading momentum for the protest movement – the biggest challenge to Beijing’s authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997 – or if it was a temporary lull before renewed demonstrations this weekend.
Also unclear was what kind of compromise the talks with Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying – whose resignation the protesters have demanded - might achieve.
Protesters have been pushing for the Chinese government to reverse its recent decision requiring a mostly pro-Beijing panel screen all candidates for Hong Kong’s first election to choose the territory’s leader in 2017. The demonstrators want open nominations.
Student protesters had threatened to surround or occupy government buildings if Mr Leung did not step down by midnight yesterday, and police had warned of serious consequences if they did that.
Minutes before the deadline, Mr Leung held a news conference to offer talks, but said: “I will not resign.”