Thousands of people have marched on the residence of Hong Kong's leader as students escalate their protest action against China's refusal to grant the city full democracy.

Student groups, spearheading a civil-disobedience campaign along with democracy activists, rallied to Leung Chun-ying's residence late on Thursday night.

They have been in protest against China's decision to pick who can stand for chief executive, Hong Kong's top post, in the next election.

University students began a week-long class boycott on Monday, rallying a crowd that organisers said was 13,000 strong on a campus in the north of the city and breathing new life into a movement left stunned by China's apathetic stance.

The students moved their protest on Tuesday to a public park outside the main legislative complex of the semi-autonomous Chinese city, briefly mobbing Leung as he exited the building.

Protesters set off from Tamar Park on Thursday night as they made their way towards Leung's official government residence in the central region of Hong Kong, despite being initially blocked by police, who held up signs warning that those who continued could be prosecuted.

Last month China said Hong Kongers would be allowed to vote for their leader for the first time in the 2017 election, but that only two or three candidates approved by a pro-Chinese committee could stand.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" agreement which allows it civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including free speech and the right to protest.

Source: AFP