HONG KONG - Large crowds of pro-democracy protesters were taking part in a rally in the Admiralty business district and scores were surrounding the government's headquarters on Sunday night, Hong Kong media reported.
Police used pepper spray and beat back the latter group with batons, reports said.
The rally came as student protest groups called for an escalation of the Occupy Movement, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) said, giving the turnout as being in the 'thousands'. Hundreds of activists have camped out on roads in Admiralty and the working class area of Mong Kok for the past two months.
On Sunday, some protesters brought along umbrellas, masks and other protective equipment, RTHK said.
Police had pledged to take "resolute enforcement actions" if anyone attempts to block the government headquarters, South China Morning Post (SCMP) cited senior superintendent of the police’s public relations branch, Kong Man Keung, as saying hours ahead of a possible showdown.
Some 7,000 policemen were being deployed on Sunday night to prepare for possible escalation of the Occupy protests, SCMP said, while hospitals have prepared to accept larger-than-usual numbers of casualties.
The movement, which drew more than 100,000 protesters at its peak in late September to early October, has attracted rising public resentment over the traffic gridlock and other inconveniences, as well as protester fatigue.
A poll by the Chinese University of Hong Kong earlier in November found that over two-thirds of those surveyed said the protesters should end their occupation immediately.
The High Court granted a taxi drivers' group an injunction earlier in November to remove barricades put up by the protesters in the Mong Kok site as well as the main protest site in Admiralty on Hong Kong Island. Bailiffs cleared the area outside CITIC Tower in Admiralty with little resistance from the mostly-student protesters, but similar actions in Mong Kok descended into scuffles between protesters and police which led to 80 arrests.
The protesters are demanding open nominations in the city's Chief Executive election in 2017. Beijing has said it will allow a vote in 2017, but only for candidates screened by a committee.