HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s leader on Tuesday called for the pro-democracy demonstrators who have blocked major roads in the city to return home immediately, but protest leaders responded with defiance, threatening to expand the demonstrations and to occupy government buildings.
In his first public remarks on the protests since the Hong Kong police used tear gas against demonstrators on Sunday, Leung Chun-ying, the Beijing-selected chief executive of the semiautonomous Chinese territory, called on one of the two main groups organizing the protests, Occupy Central With Love and Peace, to end the demonstrations.
“Occupy Central founders had said repeatedly that if the movement is getting out of control, they would call for it to stop,” Mr. Leung said. “I’m now asking them to fulfill the promise they made to society and stop this campaign immediately.”
He gave no sign that he was prepared to meet with protest organizers or compromise on their demands for open elections to choose his successor.
The crowds outside the local government headquarters swelled even larger on Tuesday night as people of all ages came to join the demonstration before public holidays on Wednesday, China’s National Day, and Thursday, which is a local holiday. A government observation of National Day on Wednesday morning proceeded relatively smoothly, despite chants by protesters outside calling for Mr. Leung’s resignation.
On Tuesday, after Mr. Leung had called for the demonstrations to end, Alex Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said at the main protest encampment downtown that “residents may occupy various government departments” unless the government responds to their demands by Thursday.
The protests, which started on Friday when students took to the streets, expanded considerably when Occupy Central announced early Sunday that it was joining the demonstrations earlier than it had previously signaled.
The protesters want Beijing and the Hong Kong government to scrap a decision by China to limit who can run in the 2017 election to choose the next chief executive. China’s plan for that election would let the public vote, but the candidates would be vetted by a committee friendly to Beijing.
The demonstrators have also demanded that Mr. Leung resign. He said Tuesday that until a new procedure was approved, any successor would be chosen by a committee dominated by Beijing’s allies, which is the current method.
Mr. Leung acknowledged Tuesday that the protests were likely to continue, and he urged the demonstrators to consider the damage he said they could do to the city.
“It will last for a relatively long time,” Mr. Leung said. “As a result, its impact on people’s lives and their personal safety in emergencies, as well as Hong Kong’s economic development and the cost to Hong Kong’s international image, will grow bigger and bigger.”
He complained that the protesters were delaying ambulances, fire engines and other emergency vehicles that needed to reach residents.
Later Tuesday, a deputy chief with the Fire Department, Leung Wai-hung, said that the city’s ambulances normally reached more than 90 percent of emergency callers within certain time targets, but that this had fallen to 60 or 70 percent in the downtown area during the first two days of the protests.
The police, whose use of tear gas on Sunday seemed only to motivate more people to join the protests, gave no indication Tuesday that they were preparing to disperse the demonstrators. Hui Chun-tak, the chief spokesman for the police, acknowledged that “the majority of protesters have expressed their views in a legal way” and praised organizers for being willing to discuss opening some lanes of the blocked roads in the city center for use by emergency vehicles.
Asked whether the police had enough personnel to clear the streets if ordered to do so, Mr. Hui responded, “I assure you, the police have enough manpower to deal with every single incident.” Hong Kong officials have consistently said that they do not need to seek Beijing’s help to deal with the protesters — a harrowing possibility for Hong Kong, where the memory of China’s brutal suppression of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in 1989 is vivid.
Long lines formed at supermarkets Tuesday as shoppers stocked up on rice and other essentials — a sign that many residents were concerned about the possibility of a prolonged confrontation. Wednesday is a public holiday marking the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and crowds could swell as many people use the holiday to come out and show their support.
Michael DeGolyer, a longtime political analyst at Hong Kong Baptist University, said that the university professors and politicians who proposed Occupy Central a year and a half ago as a civil disobedience campaign appeared to have less influence with many of the demonstrators than the student leaders did.
Polls conducted by academic institutions over the past year have indicated that the most disaffected and potentially volatile sector of Hong Kong society is not the students, the middle-aged or even the elderly activists who have sustained the democracy movement here for decades. Instead, the most strident calls for greater democracy — and often for greater economic populism, as well — have come from people in their 20s and early 30s who have struggled to find well-paying jobs as the local manufacturing sector has withered away, and as banks and other service industries have increasingly hired mainland Chinese instead of local college graduates.
An essay published on Tuesday by an influential Communist Party ideologue, Li Shenming, underscored the party’s deep aversion to political liberalization of the kind sought by Hong Kong’s democracy advocates.
The essay in the party’s main newspaper, People’s Daily, defended China’s legislature, which is controlled by the party. Mr. Li wrote that to have a legislative body with multiple parties would invite chaos. “In current-day China, competitive elections with ‘one man, one vote’ would be sure to quickly lead to a state of turmoil, chaos, even civil war,” he wrote.
Images of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution – NYTimes.com