Hong Kong riot police moving against activists have sparked outrage after officers were seen kicking a handcuffed protester and dragging dozens of others, in some of the worst violence since the start of the pro-democracy demonstrations.

Clashes that erupted before dawn on Wednesday continued early on Thursday, as police used pepper spray to push back crowds of protesters trying to occupy a road outside the government's headquarters.

As of early Thursday, hundreds of demonstrators were still gathered, defying government orders.

Al Jazeera's Sarah Clarke, reporting live from Hong Kong, said that student leaders addressed the crowd responding to the governments actions and are in process of searching for a middle man or mediator to arrange talks between pro-democracy demonstrators and the government.

Clarke added that the students also made it clear that their door is always open for talks and finding a mediator is not necessary.

Tensions remained high as protesters rushed the road next to the office of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, dragging plastic barriers and other objects with them.

A Reuters news agency photographer reported protesters scuffling with a small group of police on the side of the road. Police repelled them using pepper spray.

"Hong Kong police have gone insane today, carrying out their own punishment in private," said pro-democracy politician Lee Cheuk-yan.

"Hong Kong's values and its rule of law really have been completely destroyed by police chiefs."

Public anger over the aggressive tactics exploded after local TV showed officers taking a protester around a dark corner and kicking him repeatedly on the ground. It was unclear what provoked the attack, but local Now TV showed him splashing water on officers beforehand.

The clashes have worsened an already bitter standoff between authorities and activists who have taken over key roads and streets in the city to press for democratic reforms.

"The protesters are losing any bargaining power," C.P. Ho, a Chinese Affairs expert, told Al Jazeera. "The government has not responded to their demand, but is counting on public support to move them out. In the end this movement could amount to very little."

'Detained and defenseless' 

Protester Ken Tsang said he was kicked while he was "detained and defenseless".

"I have sought legal advice as to pursuing legal action against the police and the officers concerned," he said, adding that he was assaulted again in the police station afterward.

Tsang, a member of a pro-democracy political party, lifted his shirt to show reporters injuries to his torso and said he is considering legal action against police.

Clarke said that Tsang is not the only one who has been beaten he was just caught in the video footage which was televised internationally and that there were other people who were also beaten.

Police spokesman Steve Hui said seven officers who were involved have been temporarily reassigned, and that authorities will carry out an impartial investigation.

Our correspondent also added that the police officers have been transferred from their initial posts to other posts but the government has failed to say who will be on that task force to identify or investigate the incident as well as where those police officers have been posted to.

Police arrested 45 demonstrators in the clashes, and said five officers were injured.

China's central government issued its harshest condemnations yet of the protests, calling them illegal, bad for business and against Hong Kong's best interests.

Beijing has become increasingly impatient with the demonstrations, the biggest challenge to its authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997.

A front-page editorial Wednesday in the People's Daily, the ruling Communist Party's mouthpiece, condemned the protests and said "they are doomed to fail".

There were no signs, however, that Beijing was planning to become directly involved in suppressing the mostly peaceful demonstrations, which began on September 26 and have posed an unprecedented challenge to the government.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies