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Hong Kong Braces Itself for Another Night of Pro-Democracy Protests

As the sun rose Monday morning, dispelling the clouds of tear gas, one of the world’s great cities found itself in partial lockdown.

Hong Kong's normally gridlocked thoroughfares became deserted concrete canyons as pro-democracy demonstrators continued their occupation of the Admiralty and Causeway Bay districts on Hong Kong Island, and of a key intersection in Kowloon — on the other side of a world-famous harbor that glittered in the sun of early fall.

With a speed that seemed to surprise protesters and government alike, what started six days ago as a student-led class boycott has now become a full-scale showdown between tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators and the police.

Many of those protesters are part of the Occupy Central movement — a group naming itself after its goal of shutting down the city's main business area. The name is now obsolete: as protest sites spread and more people join, Occupy Central has become Occupy Hong Kong.

“We have been waiting for so many years,” said one protester, Raymond Chow, 45. “And now that we’ve started, we will not stop.”

On Monday morning at the upper reaches of Nathan Road — Kowloon's main artery — all traffic had halted. Buses and cars stood where their drivers had abandoned them the previous evening. Dozens of black-clad students and other protesters lay sprawled across the road listening to speeches.

A young girl moved through the crowd offering breakfasts of bread rolls while a human chain formed to move bottles of water, donated by the public, from a collection point two blocks away, right up to the front line.

Last night's barricades still stretched across the road and, eerily, not a single police officer could be seen. One of the world's busiest shopping quarters had completely fallen to the forces of democratic revolution.

That is exactly what Beijing fears. Oct. 1 marks the 65th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, and 65 years of Chinese Communist Party rule. In the CCP's narrative, Hong Kong has been assigned the role of prodigal city: seized at gunpoint by rapacious opium traders, and subject to British rule for 156 years, before being returned to the fulsome embrace of Chinese sovereignty.

Or so the story is meant to go. Instead, since Hong Kong's return to China in 1997, its people have been singularly truculent, disagreeing with their new overlords over everything from national-security legislation to school curricula and the pace of political reform.

The latest protests erupted when Beijing rejected demands — shared by many in this sophisticated and highly educated community — that Hong Kong's highest officeholder, the Chief Executive, be directly elected from candidates nominated by the city's 3.5 million eligible voters and not chosen by an election committee composed of oligarchs and pro-Beijing figures.

In retrospect, Beijing may come to regret its decision to refuse its most cosmopolitan city even this modicum of democracy. By late Sunday, what had been a largely peaceful face-off degenerated into scenes of violence, as the police fired successive rounds of tear gas into crowds gathering along Connaught Road by City Hall, right in the seat of the city's power. Tear-gas canisters bounced off the walls of the exclusive Hong Kong Club as defiant protesters faced riot police.

In Causeway Bay, home to some of the world's most expensive retail premises, thousands of others waited long into the night. As volunteers distributed water and crackers, young people talked politics and watched for updates on their phones. “We are fighting for a fair democracy and supporting our students,” said Kusa Yeung, a 24-year-old copywriter, handing water to exhausted peers. “We are not afraid of the Chinese government.”

Protesters were still on the streets this morning, and their numbers have been building steadily throughout the day. By Monday afternoon, thousands were swarming along Queensway, home to government offices and the city's High Court, ready for another night of confrontation with the police.

“The police were very harsh yesterday, that’s why I’m here,” arts student Lillian Chung, who took part in the Nathan Road occupation, told TIME.

If the police repeat last night's tear-gassing and pepper spraying, there could be many more Hong Kongers on the streets tomorrow.

— With reporting by Elizabeth Barber, Charlie Campbell, Liam Fitzpatrick, Rishi Iyengar and David Stout / Hong Kong

— Video by Helen Regan / Hong Kong

Photographs of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Protesters sit behind a government building as the standoff continues Oct. 5, 2014 in Hong Kong.
VIEW GALLERY | 45 PHOTOS
Protesters sit behind a government building as the standoff continues Oct. 5, 2014 in Hong Kong.Paula Bronstein—Getty Images
Protesters sit behind a government building as the standoff continues Oct. 5, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Protesters walk along the protest site on a quiet night as the standoff continues Oct. 5, 2014 in Hong Kong.
A pro-democracy protester sleeps on a concrete road divider on a street outside the Hong Kong Government Complex on Oct. 5, 2014 in Hong Kong.
People try to prevent a man from removing a barricade set up by pro-democracy protesters blocking a main road at Hong Kong's shopping Mongkok district Oct. 4, 2014.
Policemen try to get a man to let go of a fence guarded by pro-democracy demonstrators in an occupied area of Hong Kong on Oct. 3, 2014.
A local resident breaks through police lines and attempts to reach the pro-democracy tent on Oct. 3, 2014 in Mong Kok, Hong Kong.
A student protester is injured after being pulled off and hit by residents and pro-Beijing supporters while local police are escorting him out of the protest area in Kowloon's crowded Mong Kok district, Oct. 3, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Students and pro-democracy activists leave the protest site as local police hold back local residents and pro-government supporters on Oct. 3, 2014 in Mong Kok, Hong Kong.
A man walks past a barricade as protesters continue to block areas outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong, Oct. 3, 2014.
Pro-democracy demonstration in Hong Kong, Sept. 3, 2014.
Student protesters raise their hands to show their non-violent intentions as they resist during change of shift for local police but backed down after being reassured they could reoccupy the pavement outside the government compoundís gate, Oct. 2, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Police stand guard outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Oct. 2, 2014, as pro-democracy protesters remain gathered for the fifth day in a push for free elections of the city's leader.
A taxi driver gives a thumbs up to pro-democracy protesters as he drives past the protest site in front of Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's office, Oct. 3, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Protesters sleep on the road outside the Police Headquarters building on Oct. 2, 2014 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
Students from various universities continue their protest in the streets of Hong Kong, Oct. 1, 2014.
A protester holding an umbrella stands on the street close to the Hong Kong Government Complexon Oct. 1, 2014 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
Joshua Wong, leader of the student movement, delivers a speech as protesters block the main street to the financial Central district, outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong Oct. 1, 2014.
Protesters react as Joshua Wong, leader of the student movement, speaks to the crowd outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong Oct. 1, 2014.
Tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators, some waving lights from mobile phones, fill the streets in the main finical district of Hong Kong, Oct. 1, 2014.
A protester sleeps on the streets outside the Hong Kong Government Complex at sunrise on Sept. 30, 2014 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy demonstrators rest during a protest in Hong Kong on Sept. 30, 2014.
Protesters relax on the streets outside the Hong Kong Government Complex on Sept. 30, 2014 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
A pro-democracy protestor speaks to the crowd in front of the government offices in Hong Kong on Sept. 30, 2014.
A couple wearing protective masks and ponchos walk through Admiralty district as part of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on Sept. 30, 2014.
Protesters sing songs and wave their cell phones in the air after a massive thunderstorm passed over outside the Hong Kong Government Complex on Sept. 30, 2014 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy demonstrators gather for the third night in Hong Kong on Sept. 30, 2014.
A businessman stands in front of a road block set up by protesters at the main street of the financial Central district in Hong Kong Sept. 29, 2014.
A protester raises his arms as police officers try to disperse the crowd near the government headquarters in Hong Kong, Sept. 29, 2014.
Umbrellas used to shield demonstrators from pepper spray and the sun are displayed during a pro-democracy protest near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 29, 2014.
Residents on scooters bring supplies to protesters camped outside the headquarters of Legislative Council during protests in Hong Kong on Sept. 29, 2014.
Police walk down a stairwell as pro-democracy demonstrators gather for a rally outside the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 29, 2014.
Protesters gather in the streets outside the Hong Kong Government Complex on Sept. 29, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy demonstrators hold up their mobile phones during a protest near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 29, 2014.
Pro-democracy demonstrators are sprayed with pepper spray during clashes with police officers during a rally near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 28, 2014.
A pro-democracy demonstrator wearing a mask and goggles to protect against pepper spray and tear gas gestures during a rally near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 28, 2014.
Riot police launch tear gas into the crowd as thousands of protesters surround the government headquarters in Hong Kong, Sept. 28, 2014.
A protester walks in tear gas fired by riot policemen after thousands of protesters blocking the main street to the financial Central district outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, Sept. 28, 2014.
A pro-democracy protester confronts the police during a demonstration in Hong Kong on Sept. 28, 2014.
Pro-democracy protesters demonstrate in Hong Kong on Sept. 28, 2014.
Policemen confronts protesters in Hong Kong during a demonstration on Sept. 28, 2014.
Riot police fire tear gas on student protesters occupying streets surrounding the government headquarters in Hong Kong, early on Sept. 29, 2014.
A pro-democracy demonstrator pours water over a man's face after police fired tear gas at protesters during a rally near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 28, 2014.
Pro-democracy protesters put their hands up in the air in front of the police in Hong Kong on Sept. 28, 2014.
Some of the protesters sleep as they block the main street to the financial Central district outside the government headquarters, with other demonstrators in Hong Kong, Sept, 29, 2014.
Policemen rest following pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on Sept. 29, 2014.
Protesters sit behind a government building as the standoff continues Oct. 5, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Paula Bronstein—Getty Images
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