HONG KONG - Raising the stakes in their standoff with authorities, Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters threatened to occupy key government buildings unless the territory's top official resigns by the end of the day today.
The Chinese government, meanwhile, appeared to be losing patience. An editorial solemnly read Wednesday on state TV said all Hong Kong residents should support authorities in their efforts to "deploy police enforcement decisively" and "restore the social order in Hong Kong as soon as possible."
And the Communist Party-run People's Daily warned of "unimaginable consequences" if the protests persist.
In the biggest challenge to Beijing's authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997, thousands of demonstrators have clogged the streets of the Asian financial center since Friday, demanding freer elections in Hong Kong.
Storming government buildings would risk inviting another clash with police like the one over the weekend. It also would put pressure on the Chinese government, which has backed Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's attempts to end the protests but has not openly intervened.
In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and said the United States supports the "highest possible degree of autonomy" in Hong Kong. He also said he hopes Hong Kong authorities exercise restraint.
One of the protest leaders, Chan Kin-man, said the demonstrations will continue as long as the Hong Kong government fails to give a satisfactory response to their demands. He said the government "is getting more and more closed without listening to Hong Kong people."
The protests were triggered by Beijing's recent decision that all candidates in the inaugural 2017 election for Hong Kong's top post must be approved by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing local elites.
In the United States, students bearing umbrellas as a sign of solidarity gathered at rallies Wednesday to show support for the pro-democracy protesters. Altogether, hundreds were expected at Umbrella Revolution rallies in 40 U.S. cities, including New York, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago, organizers said.