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Police clash with protest students

Riot police in Hong Kong arrested scores of students who stormed the government headquarters during a protest at China's refusal to allow genuine democratic reforms.

More than 100 others, however, showed no sign of leaving the area surrounding the square where the government complex is located, and chanted at police to stop arresting their colleagues.

The dispersal followed a night of scuffles between police and about 150 protesters who forced their way into the government compound, some scaling a tall fence. Police responded with pepper spray to push them back, but about 50 had remained inside the gated premises.

At least 29 people were injured, police said.

Hong Kong's Secretary for Security, Lai Tung-kwok, told reporters that police acted appropriately and gave students sufficient warning before starting the process of clearing the square.

The scuffles topped a week-long strike by students demanding that China's Communist leaders organise democratic elections in 2017.

Tension over Hong Kong's political future has risen significantly since control of the former British colony passed to China in 1997.

China's leaders have promised universal suffrage for the semi-autonomous region, but last month ruled out letting the public nominate candidates, instead insisting they be screened by a committee of Beijing loyalists.

Hong Kong's young people have become vocal supporters of full democracy in recent years, fuelled by anger over widening inequality.

Thousands of university and college students who had spent the week boycotting classes were joined yesterday by a smaller group of high school students.

Organisers said those arrested at government headquarters included Joshua Wong, a 17-year-old leader of the activist group Scholarism, who was dragged away by four officers.

The teenager, a recent high school graduate, gained prominence two years ago after he organised protests which forced the Hong Kong government to back off from plans to introduce a Chinese national education curriculum that some feared was a form of brainwashing.

"Our movement is peaceful and does not use aggression," said University of Hong Kong students' union president Yvonne Leung. "Students who decided to storm inside (the government complex) knew about their legal responsibility."

The student protest was organised independently of Occupy Central, an alliance of pro-democracy activists who plan to blockade Hong Kong's financial district to call for genuine democratic reforms.

Today, several Occupy Central members joined students protesting outside the square.

Benny Tai, a key leader of the movement, told reporters the group would "stay with the students until the end and risk getting arrested ourselves". He also criticised the amount of force police used on students.

Occupy Central has hinted that their blockade will begin on Wednesday, China's National Day holiday, and Mr Tai said the protest would go ahead as scheduled.

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