Hong Kong's embattled police defended their use of tear gas but softened their tactics today after forceful attempts to quell pro-democracy protests drew tens of thousands more people into the streets in an unprecedented show of civil disobedience.
"The students are protecting the right to vote, for Hong Kong's future. We are not scared, we are not frightened, we just fight for it," said Carol Chan, a 55-year-old civil service worker who said she took two days off to join the protests after becoming angered over police use of tear gas on Sunday.
Instead of candlelight, a few hundred people staged a brief "mobile light" vigil tonight, waving their glowing cell phones as the protests stretched into their fourth day. Crowds chanted calls for the city's unpopular leader, chief executive Leung Chun-ying, to resign, and sang anthems calling for freedom.
Students and activists have been camped out since Friday, demanding that Beijing grant genuine democratic reforms to the former British colony.
Signalling it doesn't expect a quick end to the demonstrations, the government said it was cancelling a fireworks display planned for Wednesday's celebration of National Day. During that holiday and a traditional holiday on Thursday, still larger crowds could flood the streets.
Police said they used 87 rounds of tear gas on 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.
Riot police withdrew from the protest areas late last night, and today, exhausted-looking uniformed officers manned barricades, blocking access to some buildings but otherwise not intervening.
The atmosphere was festive 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 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 rubbish in the protest area with her friends. "So we are forming some groups and hope we can do some shifts and take turns."
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.
Washington urged authorities in Hong Kong to show restraint with protesters. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said there should be a "genuine choice of candidates," adding that Hong Kong needs an open society with the highest degree of autonomy.
Occupy Central today urged Leung to resign, saying his "non-response to the people's demands has driven Hong Kong into a crisis of disorder." The statement said the protest is now "a spontaneous movement" of all Hong Kong people