HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong's leader said on Monday that pro-democracy protests were "in vain" after the police used pepper spray and batons on students trying to storm government headquarters overnight, in some of the worst violence since the rallies began.
With the protests now into their third month and frustrations mounting, Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying hinted that further police action may be imminent, in his most forceful comments in recent weeks.
"I have pointed out before that Occupy Central is not only illegal but it will also be in vain," Mr Leung said, describing the continued protests as "intolerable". "Now the (public) demand for police clearance is increasing. From now on, police will enforce the law without hesitation," he told reporters.
But the leader of the student group spearheading the pro-democracy movement declared Sunday night's action a success. "The government headquarters was paralysed this morning... to a certain extent, the goal of the action was achieved," Mr Alex Chow of the Hong Kong Federation of Students told demonstrators on Monday at the main Admiralty protest site.
The government offices were closed on Monday morning and the city's legislature suspended after protesters broke through police lines and occupied a major road outside the complex overnight.
The police arrested 40 people and 11 officers were injured, a spokesman said. The authorities said a total of 37 people received hospital treatment.
The authorities said they had "no other choice" but to use pepper spray and batons to force them back.
By Monday morning, the crowds had been driven back to the nearby Admiralty protest site, where there was frustration and pessimism.
"We feel a mixture of things: angry, tired, upset. All the emotions are quite negative and tense," said student Eppie Chan.
Some protesters said the police had attacked them for no reason.
"We were in the front line this morning but we were not attacking... the police came out and hit us," said social work student Joanne Tsang.
Others voiced their doubts over the direction of the movement and Sunday night's call to storm the government HQ.
"The crowd was not prepared for the battle last night... they were put into a difficult situation and didn't know how to handle it," said translator Mayson Ng.
"They (student leaders) don't have a strategy."
The Admiralty site had calmed by Monday afternoon after a chaotic morning that saw protesters at a nearby shopping arcade clash with the police.
The protests drew tens of thousands of people at times during their first weeks, but the numbers have dwindled as the movement's leaders struggle to keep up momentum.
Frustrations have grown amongst the demonstrators as Beijing refuses to budge on the vetting of candidates, while support for them has waned among residents weary of the transport disruption.
Police cleared a protest site in the Mongkok district last week, making more than 140 arrests, but sporadic scuffles have continued there.
A smaller camp blocks another busy road in the shopping district of Causeway Bay.