Hong Kong's leader has refused to meet pro-democracy demonstrators by their midnight deadline, despite threats to expand the protests that have clogged the streets for five days.

Protesters counted down to midnight on Tuesday and cheered as the deadline passed, but took no immediate action.

Hong Kong's chief executive Leung Chun-ying's rejection of the student demands dashed hopes for a quick resolution to the standoff, the biggest protest against Chinese interference in the territory since it was handed back by the British in 1997. It was unclear what action the demonstrators would take next.

Hong Kong protesters remain on streets

Earlier on Tuesday, Alex Chow, the secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, the organiser of the university class boycotts that led to the street protests, said it was considering its options, including widening the protests, pushing for a labour strike and occupying a government building.

Lester Shum, another student leader, shouted to a crowd near Hong Kong's waterfront: "We are not afraid of riot police, we are not afraid of tear gas, we are not afraid of pepper spray. We will not leave until Leung Chun-ying resigns. We will not give up! We will persevere until the end!"

The protesters want a reversal of a decision by China's government to screen all candidates in the territory's first direct election of a chief executive, scheduled for 2017 - a move they view as reneging on a promise of "universal suffrage".

China's president Xi Jinping, who has taken a hard line against any perceived threat to the Communist party's hold on power, vowed in a National Day speech to "steadfastly safeguard" Hong Kong's prosperity and stability.

China's government has condemned the student-led protests as illegal, though so far it has not overtly intervened, leaving Hong Kong authorities to handle the crisis.

Nick Clegg, the British deputy prime minister, said on Tuesday that he had summoned the Chinese ambassador to discuss the dispute, saying it was essential that Hong Kong's people have a genuine right to choose their top leader.

China took control of Hong Kong under a "one country, two systems" arrangement that guaranteed the seven million residents of the city semi-autonomy, civil liberties and eventual democratic freedoms that mainland Chinese are denied.

Source: AP