HONG KONG — Bolstered by a massive rally overnight, Hong Kong's pro-democracy activists were defiant on the eighth day of protests today in the face of attacks by opponents and government warnings to clear the business district streets they have occupied to press their demand for reforms.
"Democracy now! Democracy in Hong Kong!" thousands chanted as speakers from the movement seeking wider political reforms for this former British colony urged them to persist in their campaign. The rally lasted hours, with participants at times clapping and cheering as speakers and singers addressed them and performed popular songs.
"We are not seeking revolution. We just want democracy!" said Joshua Wong, a 17-year-old student leader. "We hope there will be no violence," he said. "It would be unfortunate if this movement ended with bloodshed and violence."
The night passed peacefully despite fears that police would act to clear out the protesters. The city's top leader, Chief Secretary Leung Chun-ying, appeared on television Saturday evening to once again urge everyone to go home, saying things needed to get back to normal by Monday. The protests are demanding Leung's resignation, but he has refused.
Standoffs between the protesters and their antagonists grew ugly Saturday, as the two sides traded insults and at times taunted police.
Although the mostly student-led protesters have stuck to their pledges of nonviolence, holding up their arms to show peaceful resistance, some shouted abuse at people who gathered to challenge their occupation of a major street in the gritty, blue-collar Mong Kok district, which is home to many migrants from the Chinese mainland.
"Go back to the mainland," some shouted, cursing them in the local dialect of Cantonese.
Minor skirmishes broke out constantly, broken up by police or bystanders. Adding to the disorder, some residents dumped water from their apartments onto the people below.
The students accused police of failing to protect them from attacks Friday by mobs intent on driving them away, shouting "Black Police!" — a reference to their claim that the police had allied with "black societies," or criminal gangs, to clear out the protesters. The claim was denied by the government.
"There are many problems to be resolved in society, but the right way is through rational communication to seek common ground while holding back differences," Leung said in his address. "Not fighting on the streets, which makes things worse."
Police had earlier arrested 19 people after brawls injured at least 12, including six officers. Eight men were believed to have backgrounds linked to triads, or organized crime, said Senior Superintendent Patrick Kwok Pak-chung. They were facing charges of unlawful assembly, fighting in public and assault, he said.
The confrontations led protest leaders to call off planned talks with the government. Students and other activists object to China's decision to require a committee of mostly pro-Beijing figures to screen candidates for the city's first election of its top leader in 2017.