Hong Kong police used tear gas today and warned of further measures as they tried to clear thousands of pro-democracy protesters who had gathered outside government headquarters in a challenge to Beijing over its decision to restrict democratic reforms for the semiautonomous city. After spending hours holding the protesters at bay, police lobbed canisters of tear gas into the crowd today. The searing fumes sent demonstrators fleeing down the road, but many came right back to continue their protest. Students started the rally Friday, but by early today leaders of the broader Occupy Central movement said they were joining them to kick-start a long-threatened mass sit-in to demand that an election for Hong Kong's leader be held without Beijing's interference.
Police used the tear gas after the protest spiraled into an extraordinary scene of chaos, with the demonstrators jamming a busy road and clashing with officers wielding pepper spray. "It was very cruel for the police to use such harsh violence on protesters who had been completely peaceful," said one of the demonstrators. "Now, police have solved nothing and students are more resolved to stay." Police warned that if protesters didn't disperse, "a higher level of force" would "restore public order and safeguard public safety." The demonstrations—which Beijing called "illegal"—were a rare scene of disorder in the Asian financial hub, and highlighted authorities' inability to rein in the public discontent over Beijing's tightening grip on the city. (Read more Hong Kong stories.)