Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators blocked major roads in multiple districts of Hong Kong on Monday as protests widened against China’s decision to restrict open elections in the territory.
The protests stopped commuters from going to work in the affected areas, and more than 200 bus routes were suspended or re-routed, according to a statement from the island’s Transport Department.
Police used tear gas, pepper spray and baton charges overnight, but failed to disperse the protesters.
Occupy Central, a group of pro-democracy activists that had planned to block streets in the financial district, joined an ongoing student protest on Sunday, swelling the numbers on the streets.
“Occupy Central has become Occupy Hong Kong,” one protester said.
The group supported the “spontaneous movement of the Hong Kong people,” Occupy Central said in a statement on Monday.
It called for the resignation of Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, and for other government officials to resign in order to “stand with the people.” Mr. Leung on Monday urged protesters to go home. “We don’t want Hong Kong to be messy,” he said in a televised statement.
He denied rumours the government had asked for intervention from the Chinese army.
The occupation of major streets began after police sealed off the area around government headquarters where tens of thousands of students rallied last week.
The areas of Admiralty, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok were affected. All lanes of Nathan Road, the main thoroughfare in Kowloon, were blocked in Mong Kok.
Dozens of people have been arrested since Friday, according to police.
China’s liaison office in Hong Kong said in a statement on Sunday evening that it strongly condemned the “illegal” protests and supported the Hong Kong government’s efforts to tackle them.
The student protests were organised following a decision last month by China’s top legislative body restricting the nominations for chief executive in elections due in 2017. According to the ruling, the candidate who wins the popular vote would also have to be formally appointed by the government in Beijing before taking office.