OVER 10,000 Hong Kongers returned to a major protest site in the busy Admiralty district on Friday night, though the crowd was smaller than what leaders of the pro-democracy movement had called for and raised fresh questions about the level of support for the two-week blockade.
The government has warned that the Occupy Central movement could result in an economic loss of HK$300 million (S$49 million) per week for the city, if business in the retail, catering and tourism sectors all drop by five per cent.
Student protest leaders remained defiant, telling reporters that they are considering escalating the campaign to block off entrance to the Government House again.
The threat came as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in Berlin on Friday there would be no change in the central government's policy of maintaining a high degree of autonomy in Hong Kong.
"The central government of China has always had the guiding principle - one country, two systems. The people of Hong Kong manage Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy and we have seen in practice that there has been no change to this policy, and there will be no change," he said during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Now clocking their 13th day on the streets, protest leaders called for supporters to take to the streets at 7.30pm on Friday night in retaliation for the government calling off talks originally scheduled for Friday afternoon.
"If the government keeps denying the meeting, one of the options is to block the government building again," Alex Chow, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) said at a press conference on Friday afternoon.
Protesters had stopped civil servants from going to work last Friday by blockading the entrance to the Government House near Admiralty, but relented and opened a path this week.
Major roads through the Admiralty, Central and Mongkok areas remain sealed off by protesters, causing traffic logjams throughout the city and testing average Hong Kongers' patience.
Trams through the city centre have stopped operating, affecting the elderly and the disabled most severely, said lawmakers who tried to get the protesters to lift the blockade.
But on Friday, Mr Chow made clear that any "adjustments" that the protesters make "depends on the terms and conditions offered by the government".
Talks had been called off by the government on Thursday night because the protesters were undermining the dialogue by using their blockade of the city as a bargaining chip, said Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who would have represented the authorities in the dialogue.
While protest leaders hope that the crowds will swell to tens of thousands again this weekend to force the government back to the table, key government leaders are actually scheduled to be out of the city.
Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, Mrs Lam, and Secretary of Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Raymond Tam are among those who will travel to Guangzhou this weekend to attend the Pan-Pearl River Delta Regional Cooperation and Development Forum and Trade Fair.
Mrs Lam leaves on Saturday and returns on Sunday, while Mr Leung leaves on Sunday and returns on Monday.
Hong Kong's refusal so far to negotiate with the protesters and its police actions two weeks ago that many have labelled as heavy-handed, has sparked criticisms. The latest to hit out at the government was Anonymous, the online activist group that uses hacking to further causes it supports. It has threatened a major blackout of Chinese and Hong Kong government websites, and to leak tens of thousands of government email address details, according to a Reuters report.
The group said on Friday that it will launch a mass effort against Chinese government servers to bring down their websites via Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on Saturday. DDoS attacks attempt to cripple networks by overwhelming them with Internet traffic.
"Here's your heads up, prepare for us, try to stop it, the only success you will have will be taking all your sites offline," the group reportedly said. "China, you cannot stop us. You should have expected us before abusing your power against the citizens of Hong Kong."