HONG KONG – Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong set a Wednesday deadline for a response from the government to meet their demands for reforms after spending another night blocking streets in an unprecedented show of civil disobedience.
A brief statement from the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement said it had set an Oct. 1 deadline for the city's unpopular chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, to meet their demands for genuine democracy and for him to step down as Hong Kong's leader.
The group said on Twitter it would "announce new civil disobedience plans same day," without elaborating.
Even larger crowds are expected to flood the streets Wednesday, China's National Day holiday. The government said it was canceling a fireworks display to mark the day.
Leung on Tuesday urged Occupy Central to take into account the considerations of other residents and stop its protest, which has snarled traffic and disrupted public transport for days. But he said China's communist leaders in Beijing would not back down from an August decision to restrict voting reforms for the first direct elections to pick his successor in 2017.
"The central government will not rescind its decision," he said.
One day after police shocked the city by firing tear gas at the crowds, the protesters passed a peaceful night Monday singing as the blocked streets in several parts of Hong Kong. They also staged a brief "mobile light" vigil, waving their glowing cell phones as the protests stretched into their fourth day. Crowds chanted calls for Leung to resign, and sang anthems calling for freedom.
Police arrested a man who drove his Mercedes-Benz through a crowd of protesters occupying a street in the densely populated Kowloon neighborhood of Mong Kok. Local television footage showed people scrambling as the car sped through the crowd while honking just before 2 a.m. No one was injured.
By Tuesday morning, the crowd, mostly students, continued to occupy a six-lane highway next to the local government headquarters. The encampment was also edging closer to the heart of the city's financial district.
Police said they used 87 rounds of tear gas Sunday in what they called a necessary but restrained response to protesters pushing through cordons and barricades. They said 41 people were injured, including 12 police officers.
"Police cordon lines were heavily charged by some violent protesters. So police had to use the minimum force in order to separate the distance at that moment between the protesters and also the police," said Cheung Tak-keung, the assistant police commissioner for operations.
The atmosphere was more festive Monday as constantly shifting crowds blocked major roads. People moved in and out of the sit-ins, some bringing in food and drink while others fetched their own. Some high school students, still in their school uniforms, sat on the pavement doing their homework.
"It's already the fourth day, so it's really tiring," said Ching-ching Tse, a 24-year-old student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who was on her second day of collecting trash in the protest area with her friends. "So we are forming some groups and hope we can do some shifts and take turns."
Officials announced that schools in some districts of Hong Kong would remain closed Tuesday because of safety concerns, while dozens of bus routes were canceled and some subway stops near protest areas were closed.
The protests have been dubbed the "Umbrella Revolution" by some, because the crowds have used umbrellas to not only block the sun, but also to stop the police from hitting them with pepper spray. Political slogans calling for freedom have also been written on the umbrellas.
Many younger Hong Kong residents raised in an era of plenty and with no experience of past political turmoil in mainland China have higher expectations. Under an agreement set in 1984, before most of them were born, Beijing promised to allow Hong Kong residents civil liberties — unseen in the rest of China — after it took control of the city in 1997.
The protesters are dismayed by China's decision last month that candidates in the city's first election for its top leader must be hand-picked by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing tycoons. That move is viewed by many residents as reneging on promises to allow greater democracy in the semi-autonomous territory of 7.1 million, since Beijing had promised that the chief executive would eventually be chosen through "universal suffrage."
China's communist leaders take a hard line against any threat to their monopoly on power, including clamping down on dissidents and Muslim Uighur separatists in the country's far west, but it cannot crack down too harshly on the semi-autonomous territory where a freewheeling media ensures global visibility.
Across the border, Chinese state media have provided scant coverage of the protests beyond noting that an illegal gathering spun out of control and was being curtailed by police.
The protests began a week ago with a class boycott by university and college students demanding reforms of the local legislature and a withdrawal of Beijing's requirement that election candidates be screened.
Leaders of the broader Occupy Central civil disobedience movement joined the protesters early Sunday, saying they wanted to kick-start a long-threatened mass sit-in demanding Hong Kong's top leader be elected without Beijing's interference.
Associated Press writers Kelvin Chan, Louise Watt and Joanna Chiu contributed to this report.