Hong Kong: Activists have disrupted a speech by a senior Communist Party official as pro-democracy groups declared Hong Kong would enter an "era of civil disobedience" in protest against Beijing's decision to retain a tight hold on future elections for the city's leader.
Police used pepper spray to disperse a small number of protesters who had breached a security checkpoint, prompting complaints of excessive force and highlighting the potential for miscalculation as tensions between protesters and police build.
China rules out full democracy for Hong Kong
Pro-democracy activists take to the streets of Hong Kong after China rejects their demands for free elections.
Pro-democracy group Occupy Central pledged to unleash "wave after wave" of protests culminating in a mass sit-in to cripple Hong Kong's financial centre after Beijing rejected the public nomination of candidates for chief executive on Sunday. Student organisations have also threatened to boycott classes in their thousands.
Most demonstrators on Monday, including a number of pan-democrat legislators, were ushered out by security guards for repeatedly interrupting Li Fei, the National People's Congress Standing Committee deputy secretary-general who had flown in from Beijing to explain the central government's framework for the 2017 chief executive election.
In a rare show of open dissent towards a Communist Party official, demonstrators, many dressed in black and wearing yellow ribbons, held up signs reading "shameful" and saying that Beijing had lost credibility.
Beijing's decision pushed back against months of rallies and street demonstrations for supporters of opposing sides that have increasingly polarised the city.
Members of the audience clapped as they were led out, while there were also pro-Beijing Chinese flag-wavers outside the auditorium.
Under Beijing's framework, two or three candidates would be put forward for election after being granted approval by the majority of a 1200-strong nomination committee.
In his speech in Hong Kong on Monday, Mr Li said this did not pose an unreasonable limitation. "Every aspirant could run in the race after securing enough nominations," he said.
Voters would be "confused", he added, if there were too many candidates to choose from.
But opposition politicians say the committee is typically stacked with business elites and pro-Beijing figures, leaving those with a dissenting voice no chance of making the ballot.
Mr Li said the central government held a dim view of Occupy Central and would not tolerate it.
"If we give in because some people engaged in illegal activities, that would only bring about more, worse law-breaking behaviour," he said. "If Occupy Central indeed happens, we believe the [Hong Kong] Special Administration Region government and its well-trained police forces are fully capable of handling it."
Braving intermittent rain under a gleaming Hong Kong skyline, thousands of demonstrators flocked to a rally organised by Occupy Central outside government offices on Sunday night. Police estimated more than 2600 attended the rally at its peak.
"This is about wanting a fair and proper election," said webpage editor Dion Tse, 24, who attended Sunday's rally with her 50-year-old mother, Wong Chi-yi. "The central government doesn't respect the voice of Hong Kong people. We want them to hear our voice and to see the determination of Hong Kong people."
Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai on Sunday fronted a press conference with members of other organisations including the Alliance for True Democracy, Scholarism, and the Federation of Students.
Mr Tai did not give an exact date for when the blockade would take place for legal reasons, but urged participants to pay attention to developments in "the next week or two", adding the city would official enter an "era of civil disobedience".
"Look at the person next to you," he said at Sunday's rally, standing in front of a billboard plastered with the two Chinese characters for "disobey". "That person will be occupying Central with you!"
The convenor of Scholarism, 17-year-old Joshua Wong, said earlier that preparations for high school student strikes were underway and would dovetail with the thousands of university students also expected to boycott classes.
"In addition to our academic responsibility, we also have our social responsibility," he said.
To become law, the universal suffrage bill will require a super-majority of two-thirds of Hong Kong's 70-member legislature to pass, meaning the legislation could be stopped by the 27 opposition members in government.
Mr Li warned that Hong Kong could be dragged into protracted political debate if the reform proposal was vetoed.
"It would be harmful to the business environment and the city's development," he said.
Almost 800,000 people voted in an unofficial referendum organised by Occupy Central in June against China's insistence that candidates be vetted through a committee.
As many as 172,000 people marched to push for democracy on July 1, while a pro-Beijing anti-Occupy Central march on August 17 attracted about 88,000, according to estimates by the University of Hong Kong, though police and organiser estimates varied considerably.