HONG KONG (AFP) - Pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong have made yellow ribbons a symbol of their movement - but as part of a backlash against the protesters a new opposition "blue ribbon" group has emerged.
Wearing the ribbon pinned to their chests and organising counter-rallies on Facebook, members say the new group has been founded to support Hong Kong's police, with the colour a nod to the blue of officers' uniform shirts.
The city's police force has been heavily criticised over its use of tear gas last Sunday and for its failure to contain violent attacks on pro-democracy protesters by aggressive counter demonstrators in two busy shopping districts on Friday.
With accusations from demonstrators and lawmakers that triad gangs were used in the attacks, the police and the government have been forced to deny that they had worked with criminals.
Blue ribbon wearers interviewed by AFP insisted they were simply ordinary members of the public who wanted to show support for the usually trusted police force.
"Some officers have told me they haven't had rest for 24 hours. If this continues, Hong Kong will not be able to handle it," said Joe Sin, one of the organisers of a blue-ribbon wearing group that calls itself the 'Alliance in Support of Our Police'.
"We do not wish to have the People's Liberation Army come into the city to help, we just hope that Hong Kong citizens will support the police," he added.
But protesters are becoming increasingly wary of anyone wearing the symbol after Friday's violence, which led pro-democracy leaders to pull out of proposed talks with the government and sparked fears over a divided society.
Saturday saw heightened fears of reprisals at protest sites as large groups gathered once more.
"I think there will be more anti-Occupy people stirring up trouble because the movement is going to continue after the breakdown of talks," Tsai Wing-li, 23, told AFP.
Blue ribbon supporters sought to distance themselves from the violence when they spoke to AFP.
"The violent people from last night were just individuals," 70-year-old retiree Man Ho-chuen said.
"The blue ribbons are supporting the police. There's about 400 to 500 of us," said Man.
He was attending a gathering organised on Facebook by pro-government group Caring Hong Kong Power and held in the commercial hub of Mongkok, which saw the worst of Friday's attacks.
Workers at the event cut up blue ribbons and handed them out to the crowds, encouraging the public to speak over microphones.
Around 70 blue ribbon supporters also gathered outside police headquarters in the downtown neighbourhood of Wanchai on Saturday.
"I think the students are doing illegal things, they overtook the Hong Kong police... that's why I came out," said 55-year-old Tony Ng, who said he found the event on Facebook.
"I think there are millions of people that support the police... they are trying very hard to protect our lives," Leticia Lee, one of the organisers of the event, added.