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Occupy Central’ Protest Kicks Off in Hong Kong

Image: A pro-democracy student stands on railings during a rally outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong
A pro-democracy student stands on railings during a rally outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, as riot police stand guard, early September 28, 2014. Tens of thousands of people massed in the heart of Hong Kong late on Saturday to demand more democracy, as tensions grew over Beijing's decision to rule out free elections in the former British colony. The crowds swelled less than 24 hours after riot police used pepper spray to disperse protesters around government headquarters, arresting more than 60 people opposed to the Chinese government's tightening grip on the city. TYRONE SIU / Reuters

Leaders of a Hong Kong pro-democracy movement kicked off a long threatened mass civil disobedience protest early Sunday to challenge Beijing over its recent decision to rule out genuine democratic reforms for the former British colony.

Organizers of "Occupy Central with Love and Peace" said that an "occupation" of the streets outside government headquarters has officially begun.

The movement had originally planned a mass sit-in to paralyze the Asian financial hub's central business district on Wednesday, but organizers made the surprise move in an apparent bid to harness momentum from a student-led demonstration outside the government complex that has attracted thousands of supporters over two nights.

Pro-democracy supporters are demanding that China's Communist leaders allow fully democratic elections in 2017.

Image: Protesters wearing masks and goggles gather outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong
Protesters wearing masks and goggles gather outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, early on Sunday. Vincent Yu / AP

China, which took control of the former British colony in 1997, has promised that Hong Kong's top leader can be chosen through universal suffrage. But tensions over the Asian financial hub's political future boiled over after China's legislature last month ruled out letting the public nominate candidates, instead insisting they be screened by a committee of Beijing loyalists similar to the one that currently picks the city's leader.

The organizers of the non-violent protest movement said they want Beijing to abandon its decision and the Hong Kong government to resume political reform consultations

"The courage of the students and members of the public in their spontaneous decision to stay has touched many Hong Kong people," the group said in a statement. "Yet, the government has remained unmoved. As the wheel of time has reached this point, we have decided to arise and act."

— The Associated Press