BEIJING — After clashes between police and protesters that lasted into the morning, Hong Kong awoke Monday to a city in chaos — with many roads closed and several areas still crowded with pro-democracy demonstrators.
Some still clutched umbrellas and masks that they had used to fend off tear gas lobbed by police in a failed attempt to disperse them.
And crowds continued to gather throughout the day at the protest site in the heart of Hong Kong, in part due to growing anger and resentment among residents at the actions of police.
Many schools and banks were shuttered. And authorities withdrew riot police in a sign they were reevaluating Sunday night’s hardline approach.
The overnight clashes between thousands of protesters and police marked the latest escalation in the battle between Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists and the territory’s rulers in Beijing.
In recent weeks, the democracy movement had appeared to be flagging after a summer of simmering dissent. But this past week, a boycott by students galvanized the cause over the weekend and prompted thousands to join the students’ nonviolent siege of Hong Kong’s government headquarters.
Their protests yielded scenes of unusual chaos over the weekend in the usually staid Asian financial hub.
On Sunday, officers in riot gear charged at protesters with batons in an attempt to drive them away. Police also fired tear gas into the crowds and used pepper spray. Many demonstrators, however, had come prepared, wrapping their exposed skin in plastic and donning masks, goggles and umbrellas.
Early Monday, Hong Kong’s top leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who is supported by Beijing, exhorted the protesters to go home. “We don’t want Hong Kong to be messy,” he said in a statement on television, the Associated Press reported.
Some protesters pulled back, but others began spreading their occupation from the government headquarters to other parts of downtown, including the Causeway Bay commercial district and the gritty narrow-street neighborhood of Mong Kok.
Some activists said they were preparing for another night of demonstration. Momentum for the pro-democracy movement has been unpredictable, having flared up several times since summer, only to die back down. If the protests continue into Wednesday — the beginning of a two-day holiday in Hong Kong — experts think they could draw even larger crowds than Sunday night’s.
Driving the confrontation is a ruling last month by Beijing that essentially allows its Communist leaders to weed out any candidates not loyal to the party. The move has angered many in Hong Kong who see it as a violation of Beijing’s promise — dating to 1997, when Britain handed control of the territory back to China — to grant residents universal suffrage by 2017.
On Sunday, China’s government condemned the latest protest through an unnamed spokesman who was quoted in the state-run Xinhua News Agency as calling protesters’ actions an “unlawful occupation” of government offices.
The continuing protests present a conundrum for China. All summer, its leaders have sought to calibrate their response to Hong Kong’s democracy movement. Too hard a response could drive more residents to support the cause, but too soft a response could allow the movement to grow.
Beijing’s August ruling, which would essentially keep the 2017 election firmly under party control, seemed to take the wind out of the sails of the organization driving much of the protest — Occupy Central with Love and Peace.
Occupy Central’s leaders had famously threatened to shut down the financial district with protests if Beijing did not grant authentic universal suffrage. But after Beijing issued its ruling, some feared that following through on the threat could turned undecided residents against the movement and jeopardize business — Hong Kong’s lifeblood.
On Sunday, after the student boycott had gained momentum, Occupy Central leaders declared that they were now joining in, abandoning their original idea of occupying the financial district.
Xu Jing contributed to this report.