Hong Kong protests: Student leader pledges to step up mass action

Student Agnes Chow listens to a question at a press conference on the next move for the pro-democracy protests that have gripped Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Student Agnes Chow listens to a question at a press conference on the next move for the pro-democracy protests that have gripped Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - A student leader vowed Wednesday to step up Hong Kong's huge pro-democracy protests - including a possible occupation of government offices - unless the city's leader steps down within a day, as support for the movement grew around the world.

The announcement came as tens of thousands of defiant demonstrators poured onto the streets on China's National Day.

"If our Chief Executive and the central government (China) do not respect and listen to our people's opinion, we will consider having different operating actions in future days, including occupying other places like important government offices," said Agnes Chow of the Scholarism student movement.

Ms Chow said the deadline for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was "today or tomorrow".

Chan Kin-man, co-founder of the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement which co-organised the demonstrations, said any escalation would be "an action initiative by the students" and called for it to be peaceful. But he ruled out any dialogue with Mr Leung. "We can talk to anyone in the government except him... resign for the sake of Hong Kong."

Mr Leung has faced mounting calls to step down and has been criticised for failing to engage with protesters, after their "Umbrella Revolution" campaign for unfettered universal suffrage sparked the biggest civil unrest in the semi-autonomous Chinese city for decades.

Wednesday was a holiday marking the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, and Thursday is also a holiday in Hong Kong.

As evening fell, thousands crammed into a one-kilometre stretch between the Central business district and Wanchai.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr Leung's administration is planning to sit out the protests - hoping they fizzle out rather than trying to clear them by force - on Beijing's orders.

"Beijing has set a line to C.Y. (Leung). You cannot open fire," the newspaper quoted a source familiar with the matter as saying. "You must halt it in a peaceful way."

International support for the protesters has been growing - a Facebook group calling itself "United for Democracy: Global Solidarity with Hong Kong" said it was planning events from Australia to the United States.

More than 1,000 sympathisers gathered in the Taiwanese capital Wednesday night, while 80 attended a candlelight vigil in Singapore.

South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu backed the protests, criticising police for trying to suppress them and calling on Bejing not to "fear the will of its people".

But in mainland China authorities have detained more than a dozen activists and questioned as many as 60 others who expressed support for the Hong Kong crowds, rights groups said.