HONGKONG - Tensions are simmering as a crowd of about 1000 protesters gathered outside the office of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Thursday afternoon, even as police urged protesters to end the blockade of the city centre which were affecting public order.
Police - which had maintained a minimal presence since Sunday night's clashes - are encircling the protesters who had blocked police vehicles from entering Tim Wa Avenue in Admiralty where Mr Leung's office is located. Protesters believe the police had lied to them by saying that they needed to move in to "change shift". Instead, more police reinforcements are being brought in, said one demonstrator.
The group of demonstrators had moved from their usual site at Harcourt Road adjacent to the government headquarters, as the deadline for an ultimatum for Mr Leung to resign looms.
"About 3,000 government offials will try their best tomorrow to return to work as (much) as possible. To maintain public service, the government headquarters must operate as usual," the government said in a statement. "We urge the Occupy Central leaders and organisers to stop the movement immediately."
It further said the government hopes that "the public will understand that the government has the responsibility to protect these government offices so that they can resume normal operation."
One of the protest organisers, the Federation of Students, had demanded Wednesday that he steps down by the end of Thursday, else the protesters will escalate their actions - including by occupying and surrounding government buildings. It did not specify which they are targetting.
There is every indication that Mr Leung does not intend to accede to the demand.
On Thursday, Legislative Council chief Jasper Tsang Yok Sing said that it is "impossible" to meet the demand. Separately, executive councillor Regina Ip made the same point, while saying she wants to broker a forum between the government and the protesters, but without any pre-conditions.
In a separate briefing, Steve Hui, senior superintendent of the Hong Kong police force, urged protesters not to block or charge at government buildings, saying police would take action in accordance with the law if they did.
A student organiser said police officers were seen transporting materials that they suspect could be used against them. Some were carrying banners that are used to warn protesters that force will be used.
Lawmaker Leung Kwok Hung, also known as Long Hair, told the crowd that he saw the police bringing in boxes marked "Made in US" and "Keep away from flames", saying that these could be chemical weapons. People are getting increasingly riled up, shouting: "You have the police, we have the people!".
Meanwhile, Mr Lam Woon Kwong, convenor of the Executive Council that acts as the chief executive's cabinet, said Beijing will not change its decision on constitutional reform, and neither will Chief Executive Mr Leung step down, as bowing to crowd pressure will "undermine his authority". This means that the only wriggle room that the Hong Kong government has to compromise with the protesters now paralysing swathes of the city is to take "an open approach" in the next round of public consultation, he said.
Even then, Mr Lam admits, given that the consultation has to take place within the framework of what China's legislature, the National People's Council, has laid down, "it is unlikely to satisfy the protestors even if the Government promises to be flexible here".
The only way out of the impasse that he sees is "to appeal to the good sense of the ordinary people to convince the protestors that their sympathy, tolerance and patience will run out pretty soon and that it would be in the protestors' interest to retreat gracefully and pocket their political capital now, otherwise they might face increasing public dissatisfaction".
In remarks to The Straits Times Thursday afternoon, Mr Lam said that this however may take a long time, and "the danger of the crowds getting into unplanned or unexpected incidents will be increasing day by day".
Said police spokesman chief superintendent Hui Chun Tak at a press briefing: "If there is any escalation of action that includes the surrounding of government buildings, pose a severe threat to security and deprive the public of protection, the police will not tolerate it.
"We will not sit by the sidelines. We will take decisive action to enforce the law."
(Additonal reporting by Peal Liu, Inputs from Reuters)