HONG KONG — A midnight deadline imposed by pro-democracy protesters came and went Tuesday without Hong Kong's leader responding to their demands — but members of the mostly student-led "Umbrella Revolution" movement vowed to stay as long as it takes.
"At this stage, we’re going forever. We'll fight to the end." protester Gary Lee, 20, told NBC News. "We just want peace. We don't need any violence, we don't need any pepper spraying here, we don't need any cops here. Just us (speaking) to the public: I want freedom, I want to vote to achieve a leader."
Lee said if the protesters don't stand up now "the next generation will be destroyed."
Swarms of young Hong Kong residents were filling the streets still on Tuesday at midnight (12 p.m. ET) with estimates of up to 100,000 people protesting. The protesters want a reversal of a decision by China's central government in Beijing to screen all candidates in the Hong Kong's first direct elections — scheduled for 2017.
"We are not afraid of riot police, we are not afraid of tear gas, we are not afraid of pepper spray."
They believe the maneuver was a broken promise that the territory's next chief executive would be chosen through "universal suffrage." Current Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's rejection of the protesters' demands meant there would be no quick resolution of the five-day standoff that has blocked city streets and forced some schools and offices to close.
"We are not afraid of riot police, we are not afraid of tear gas, we are not afraid of pepper spray," Lester Shum, another student leader, shouted to a crowd in the Admiralty, near Hong Kong's waterfront. "We will not leave until Leung Chun-ying resigns. We will not give up! We will persevere until the end!"
The protests have been dubbed the "Umbrella Revolution" by some because the crowds have used umbrellas to block the sun and to deflect police pepper spray.
"We are really basically just calling for the government to speak with us but they've been mute," Peter Chin, a 22-year-old student at Hong Kong University. "We'll keep staying here until they're ready to consult with us."
Britain's deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, meanwhile, said Tuesday that he had summoned the Chinese ambassador to discuss the dispute, saying it was essential that Hong Kong's people have a genuine right to choose their top leader.
"I am extremely concerned about the recent events in Hong Kong. Britain and China have solemn obligations to the people of Hong Kong to preserve their rights and freedoms," Clegg said in a statement.
One American bystander in the Admiralty area noted the irony of the large pro-democracy protests.
"I would never see this in a city in the USA, because any main city with these kind of roads blocked off ... it would be nipped in the bud, it would be pushed into a park," Matthew Sexton, of Philadelphia, told NBC News. "People would tear gas in a second, I mean, American police are much more heavy handed than this."