Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers have moved in to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city’s government headquarters.

Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades in and around the underpass, near the entrance to the office of the city’s leader, Leung Chun-ying. Protesters have been calling on Mr Leung to resign..

The operation came hours after a large group of protesters blockaded the tunnel.

They outnumbered the police officers, who later returned with reinforcements to clear the area.

Local television broadcast live footage of the operation and its aftermath, with officers taking away dozens of protesters.

Democracy protesters have occupied key parts of the city for more than two weeks to pressure the government over curbs recommended by Beijing on democratic reforms.

Police operations over the past two days follow the government’s abrupt cancellation of talks scheduled last Friday with the activists, citing the unlikelihood of a constructive outcome given their sharp differences.

The protesters want China’s government to drop plans for a pro-Beijing committee to screen candidates in the territory’s first direct elections, promised for 2017. They also demand that Hong Kong’s deeply unpopular Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, resign.

Mr Leung has said there is “almost zero chance” that China’s government will change its rules for the 2017 election.

The demonstrations – the largest on Chinese territory since the 1989 Tiananmen protests in Beijing – have posed an unprecedented challenge for the government.

Organisers say as many as 200,000 people thronged the streets for peaceful sit-ins after police used tear gas on September 28 to disperse unarmed protesters.

Numbers have since dwindled and the remaining demonstrators, sensing that the earlier actions were aimed at testing their defences, have braced for possible further police moves to clear out their protest camps.

Beijing is eager to end the protests to avoid emboldening activists and others on the mainland seen as a threat to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

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