Demonstrators in Hong Kong are still on the streets despite a deadline for them to leave protest sites, although the crowds have noticeably dwindled, allowing civil servants to return to work at government offices.
Dozens of workers streamed on Monday morning along a footbridge and into the Central Government Offices complex in the harborside Tamar district, the AFP news agency said.
A group of protesters partially blocked the entrance to the complex with barricades, but kept a narrow section open to allow the officials to pass through.
The crowds of protesters have been swelling and subsiding on a daily basis since their campaign began, but dwindled to their lowest point early on Monday as many had feared the police would use force to clear them.
Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s chief executive, had warned he would “take all necessary actions to restore social order” if key thoroughfares were not cleared for business on Monday.
The demonstrators are demanding the right to nominate who can run as Hong Kong’s next leader in the 2017 elections.
The Chinese government, which regained sovereignty over Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, insists that only pre-approved candidates will be able to stand and has repeatedly said the protests are doomed to fail.
Leung issued an ominous warning about what would happen if the protests were not ended and streets near the government offices cleared.
“The situation may probably evolve into a state beyond control, and will have serious consequences to public safety and social order,” he said.
A meeting between the Hong Kong student federation, which is leading the protests, and a government representative on Sunday evening had failed to reach an agreement on starting formal talks between protesters and the executive.
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Crowds had thinned out by Sunday afternoon in the Admiralty district near the government’s headquarters, hours after tens of thousands staged the biggest gathering yet of the protest.
Principals from universities have called on students and teachers who have been protesting to come back to classes.
Clashes had broken out on Sunday morning, with riot police using batons and pepper spray to fight back demonstrators.
Sunday marked exactly a week since police fired tear gas on protesters in an effort to disperse them, but only adding sympathy to their cause and boosting their numbers.
The skirmishes erupted in the commercial district of Mong Kok, away from Admiralty where tens of thousands had gathered for a peace rally, singing democracy anthems.
Mervyn, a 28-year-old seafarer who came from Singapore to support the protests, said Hong Kong residents had seen popular uprisings elsewhere in the world turn violent and were therefore determined to keep protests peaceful.
“They watched the Arab Spring unfold,” he said.
“We are a peace-loving crowd here – we don’t want the violence seen elsewhere.”