Hong Kong police used pepper spray to disperse pro-democracy activists today as the Asian financial centre braces for a wave of disruptive protests against China's decision to rule out full democracy.
China's National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee set the stage for a political showdown on Sunday when it rejected democrats' demands for the right to freely choose Hong Kong's next leader in 2017, leading scores of protesters to take to the streets.
Scuffles broke out today during a tense stand-off at the entrance to a centre where a senior Chinese official was explaining Beijing's decision, prompting police to use pepper spray amid chaotic scenes inside and outside the venue.
Activists from a movement called Occupy Central have threatened to lock down Hong Kong's financial district on an unspecified date unless Beijing grants full democracy.
"Occupy Central is an illegal activity. If we give in, it will trigger more illegal activities," said Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the NPC Standing Committee, who flew to Hong Kong to explain Beijing's decision.
Pro-democracy activists inside the building heckled Li, shouting slogans and interrupting his speech.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland under a policy of "one country, two systems".
The activists want universal suffrage, but Communist Party rulers in Beijing say any candidate for the territory's chief executive has to be first approved by a nominating panel - likely to be stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists and making it almost impossible for an opposition democrat to get on the ballot.