Hong Kong protesters and police are spoiling for a showdown tonight

Things are looking tense outside Hong Kong’s central government headquarters.
Things are looking tense outside Hong Kong’s central government headquarters.
Image: Reuters/Carlos Barria
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Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests have been remarkably calm since Sunday evening, drawing families, new recruits and the merely curious  with a carnival-like atmosphere that owes much to the police’s laissez-faire approach over a two-day public holiday.

But that may be about to change. Student leaders, including Scholarism founder Joshua Wong, warned Thursday evening that police could take “decisive action” to clear the center of the protests later tonight and urged more people to join.

That’s because police said earlier today about 3,000 government officials would return to work tomorrow, and warned that security forces would take action if the protesters didn’t stop blocking government buildings. Later, the Hong Kong government issued a second warning, asking protesters not to block the central government offices, police headquarters or chief executives office, and to “disperse peacefully as soon as possible.”

This evening they began very publicly stocking riot supplies, including what appeared to be rubber bullets, tear gas and warning flags:

The heightened tension comes as any compromise between the protesters and the Hong Kong and Chinese governments is looking less and less likely.

Student groups are calling for the resignation of chief executive CY Leung by midnight tonight. But Beijing made it very clear in recent days, though the People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, that Mr. Leung would not step down, that its decision in August about how Hong Kong’s leaders would be elected was final, and that it considers the protests illegal. China’s top official in Hong Kong recently dismissed the protests by saying: “The sun rises as usual.