Pro-democracy protests expand in Hong Kong

Protesters gather at a main road in the financial central district after riot police use tear gas against them after thousands of people blocked the road in Hong Kong, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. Hong Kong police used tear gas on Sunday and warned of further measures as they tried to clear thousands of pro-democracy protesters gathered outside government headquarters in a challenge to Beijing over its decision to restrict democratic reforms for the city.                                   (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

HONG KONG (AP) — Pro-democracy protesters, some wearing surgical masks and holding up umbrellas to protect against tear gas, expanded their rallies throughout Hong Kong on Monday, defying calls to disperse in a major pushback against Beijing’s decision to limit democratic reforms in the Asian financial hub.

Police officers tried to negotiate with protesters camped out on a normally busy highway near the Hong Kong government headquarters that was the scene of tear gas-fueled clashes that erupted the evening before.

An officer with a bullhorn tried to get them to clear the way for the commuters. A protester, using the group’s own speaker system, responded by saying that they wanted Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to demand a genuine choice for the territory’s voters.

“Do something good for Hong Kong. We want real democracy!” he shouted.

China has called the protests illegal and endorsed the Hong Kong government’s crackdown. The clashes — images of which have been beamed around the world — are undermining Hong Kong’s image as a safe financial haven, and raised the stakes of the face-off against President Xi Jinping’s government. Beijing has taken a hard line against threats to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power, including clamping down on dissidents and Muslim Uighur separatists in the country’s far west.

The mass protests are the strongest challenge yet to Beijing’s decision last month to reject open nominations for candidates under proposed guidelines for the first-ever elections for Hong Kong’s leader, promised for 2017. Instead, candidates must continue to be hand-picked by Beijing — a move that many residents viewed as reneging on promises to allow greater democracy in the semi-autonomous territory.

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