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Hong Kong protesters halt talks bid

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Police try to hold back pro-democracy student protesters as an ambulance tries to leave the compound of the chief executive's office in Hong Kong (AP)

Police try to hold back pro-democracy student protesters as an ambulance tries to leave the compound of the chief executive's office in Hong Kong (AP)

Police try to hold back pro-democracy student protesters as an ambulance tries to leave the compound of the chief executive's office in Hong Kong (AP)

Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters have shelved plans for talks with the government on electoral reforms after mobs of people tried to drive them from the streets they have occupied for a week.

The Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the groups leading the protests that swelled to the tens of thousands earlier this week, said they saw no choice but to cancel the talks.

Hong Kong's leader, chief executive Leung Chun-ying, proposed the talks late last night, seeking to defuse the stand-off, the biggest challenge to Beijing's authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997.

Scuffles in Kowloon's crowded Mong Kok district and other areas were the most chaotic since police used tear gas and pepper spray last weekend to try to disperse the protesters.

Police were hard-pressed to keep order as the two sides tussled in a tense stand-off. The generally older people trying to force out the vastly outnumbered protesters were yelling, shoving and at times trying to drag the protesters away.

Police formed cordons and escorted some of the protesters away as hundreds chanted: "Go home."

The democracy activists linked arms and held hands as they tried to stand their ground against the huge crowd.

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Police also linked arms in an attempt to keep those agitating to get the area cleared of protesters from pushing into their ranks.

Student protesters had threatened to surround or occupy government buildings if Mr Leung did not step down by last night, and police had warned of serious consequences if they did that.

Late last night, Mr Leung held a news conference to offer talks, but insisted: "I will not resign."

The Hong Kong Federation of Students said: "The government is demanding the streets be cleared. We call upon all Hong Kong people to immediately come to protect our positions and fight to the end."

Mr Leung' s refusal to yield to calls for his resignation angered many protesters. They demanded that the government hold someone responsible for the scuffles in Kowloon and other areas.

Just as police tactics last week ended up drawing more people into the streets, the attacks on demonstrators today drew hundreds of supporters , shouting at the opponents of the protesters and haranguing police to protect them.

Officers ended up escorting some of the mob of opponents - in their 30s and older - out of the area.

The chaos prompted orders from police and other senior officials for the crowds to avoid violence and go home.

Mr Leung said: "We should not use violence or disrupt social order in any situation. All people gathering in those areas should disperse as soon as possible and restore social order, so that daily lives will be restored to normal."

It was unclear if the people trying to drive out the protesters were organised, although some wore blue ribbons signalling their support for the mainland Chinese government, while the protesters have worn yellow ribbons.

At least some were local residents fed up with the inconvenience of blocked streets and closed shops, and were perhaps encouraged to take matters into their own hands by police calls for the protesters to clear the streets.

During the worst of the disturbances, police appeared hard-pressed to keep order as the two sides tussled in the stand-off. Some people emerged bloodied from the fracas. Occasional heavy rain showers did not noticeably thin the crowds.

The protesters have stayed in the streets since September 26, pledging to preserve Hong Kong's Western-style legal system and civil liberties. They want the Chinese government to reverse a decision requiring all candidates for Hong Kong's first election for its leader in 2017 to be approved by a mostly pro-Beijing committee. The demonstrators want open nominations.


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