HONG KONG — Pro-democracy protesters clashed with police as they tried to surround Hong Kong government headquarters late Sunday, stepping up their movement for genuine democratic reforms after camping out on the city's streets for more than two months.
Repeating scenes that have become familiar since the movement began in late September, protesters carrying umbrellas — which have become symbols of the pro-democracy movement — battled police armed with pepper spray, batons and riot shields.
After student leaders told a big crowd rallying at the main protest site outside government headquarters that they would escalate their campaign, hundreds of protesters charged past police lines on the other side of the complex from the protest site. They blocked traffic on a main road, but were stopped by police barricades from going down a side road to Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying's office.
Protesters said they wanted to occupy the road until at least the next morning to prevent Leung and other government officials from getting to work, but police in the early hours of Monday charged the crowd, aggressively pushing demonstrators back with pepper spray and batons.
Police arrested at least five protesters, according to the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the groups that have played important roles in organizing the protest movement, which is seeking free elections in the former British colony.
Many in the crowd were wearing surgical masks, hard hats and safety goggles. They shouted "I want true democracy."
Protesters said they were taking action to force a response from Hong Kong's government, which has made little effort to address their demands that it scrap a plan by China's Communist leaders to use a panel of Beijing-friendly elites to screen candidates for Hong Kong's leader in inaugural 2017 elections.
"We want to upgrade our action to force the government to make some statements about our goal" of genuine democracy, said protester Ernie Kwok, 21, a maintenance worker and part-time student. "I really want to have real elections for Hong Kong because I don't want the Chinese government to control us, our minds, anything."
Earlier Sunday, police warned that they would take action to prevent the protesters from surrounding government headquarters. They said in a statement that they would "take resolute enforcement actions" and would "use minimum level of force to stop any violent and illegal acts, so as to uphold the law and order."
Authorities last week used an aggressive operation to clear out the protest camp on the busy streets of Hong Kong's crowded Mong Kok district, one of three protest zones around the semiautonomous city.
In Britain, a lawmakers' committee said the Chinese Embassy had warned that its members would be refused entry if they tried to go ahead with a visit to Hong Kong as part of an inquiry into the city's relations with the U.K. since the handover of sovereignty to China in 1997.
Richard Ottaway, chairman of Parliament's committee on foreign affairs, said the Chinese authorities were acting in an "overtly confrontational manner." He said he would seek an emergency parliamentary debate on the development.
AP Writer Sylvia Hui in London contributed to this report.