Roughly a thousand demonstrators staged a sit-in outside the office of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Thursday evening, facing off against dozens of police officers equipped with riot gear.
It was the fifth night of pro-democracy protests that have alternated between moments of tumult and relative calm. Tens of thousands of students have been blocking major thoroughfares in key financial and government districts, demanding that Beijing grant Hong Kong citizens the right to choose candidates in the 2017 election for chief executive.
Student leaders had earlier vowed to occupy government buildings if Leung did not resign by midnight. Shortly before the deadline, the embattled chief executive reaffirmed his determination to remain in office.
"I have to continue to do the work of Hong Kong electoral reform," he said. "Any dialogue on political reform has to be based on the Basic Law and framework by the National People's Congress."
The night grew particularly tense when a small group of radical protesters attempted to block traffic on Lung Wo Road, directly to the north of the chief executive's office, causing a scuffle with people who attempted to push them back. Several photographers and videographers tried following them into the street to capture footage, complicating the situation. Protesters formed a human chain along the road's edge by linking arms to prevent others from entering the street.
Another group of students later walked down Lung Wo Road carrying a sign that said "Beware of left plastics," a derogatory reference to politicians who claim to fight for the people but kowtow to higher powers. This prompted another scuffle among demonstrators, which was quickly brought under control.
Lester Shum, a student leader with the Hong Kong Federation of Students, criticized the attempts to escalate a confrontation with the authorities.
"This is a very critical moment right now," he told VICE News. "We don't want to lose the support of Hong Kong's citizens." Shum noted that Lung Wo Road is the only aboveground link between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula to the north.
"Some people tried to ruin the whole night," Coeuy Lam, a 22-year-old bartender participating in the protests, told VICE News, expressing relief that the situation did not worsen. "We are unified, fighting together."
Earlier in the evening, a large crowd of predominantly young people formed outside of Leung's office. They wore facemasks, goggles, and saran wrap, which have become the uniform of choice for this movement, dubbed the Umbrella Revolution for the unconventional use of umbrellas to shield demonstrators from tear gas. The crowd repeatedly chanted the phrase "add oil," which roughly translates to "keep it going." Drivers cruising down an adjacent road occasionally blared their vehicles' horns, prompting protesters to applaud and cheer in response.
Shum and Joshua Wong, co-founder of the pro-democracy student group Scholarism, urged demonstrators to stay peaceful and patiently await the next move. At the behest of organizers, chancellors from two of the city's biggest universities also addressed the crowd.
"You have a lot of good will," said Peter Mathieson, vice chancellor and president of the University of Hong Kong. "Please don't waste it."
Tensions flared when police appeared to use an ambulance to transport weapons, including rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, behind a fence blocking students from the executive's office. Protesters believed they had been tricked into opening up a channel for the police, who they said had told them that they were doing a routine shift change. The police seemed to quickly replenish their gear after the ambulance was granted passage.
"We felt betrayed," Li Sze Ping, a 20-year-old sociology student who was sitting not far from police officers, told VICE News. She laughed nervously. "I thought, 'Maybe we're going to die tonight.' "
The People's Daily, a state-run Chinese newspaper, printed an editorial on Wednesday calling the pro-democracy protests "illegal."
"'Occupy Central' will have negative consequences for Hong Kong and all its people," the editorial said, according to a translation published by the business news site Quartz. "If it continues, these consequences will be unimaginable."
The paper ran a similar editorial amid pro-democracy protests in Beijing in 1989, ahead of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
While the spirit among protesters generally remained high, there were signs that the enthusiasm and stamina has begun to flag.
Leo Li, a post-graduate student at Hong Kong University, told VICE News that he would consider withdrawing from the protests next week if none of the students' demands are met. "I haven't worked all week," he said.
"I feel tired," added Jackson Fong, a 26-year-old legal consultant for the United Nations whose office in the Central financial district has been blocked by the demonstration. "But I'm here to fight for democracy and Hong Kong, to fight for our home. I have no plans to stop anytime soon."
Follow Steven Hsieh on Twitter: @stevenjhsieh