Thousands of pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets in Hong Kong, bringing the territory’s central business district to a standstill.

The crowds remained peacefully protesting on the streets overnight despite Chinese authorities dispatching armed riot police who used pepper spray in an attempt to forcefully disperse the protesters. Police arrested over 150 protesters over the weekend.

Hong Kong residents reported travel chaos in the city, with some banks and schools closed as protesters blocked the streets and erected barricades.

Early on Monday Hong Kong authorities said that the riot police were being withdrawn as the people had “mostly calmed down”, however a number of banks and schools remained closed in the city.

University students began the protests, and were soon joined by high school students and supporters of the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement. They are protesting against Beijing’s plans to vet candidates for Hong Kong’s 2017 leadership elections, which they had previously promised to be direct elections back in 2008.

Protesters are calling for a popular elections with a free choice of candidates for the chief executive of the territory, and are calling for help form the international community.

In a video posted to YouTube, one protester set out the group’s demands, saying:

“We want true pop vote for Hong Kongers chief executive election…We are asking for a [popular]vote only, and we are really peaceful”

Overnight, Hong Kong’s current chief executive CY Leung reassured the pubic that Beijing had no plans to use the army to intervene in disperse the protesters and called for calm.

Beijing has said that they have confidence in the Hong Kong administration diffusing the situation, but authorities continue to block access to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. They hope that by blocking information about the protests, they will not spread to the mainland where discontent with one party rule has been growing in recent years.

Beijing blames the protests on “radical opposition forces” and could crush them by force, as they did in the 1989 Tiananmen protests, but such a policy would be a disaster for China in the international community to which they have become entwined in the intervening decades.

The protests are expected to escalate in the coming days, with a campaign of civil disobedience planned for Wednesday, as protesters call for the CY’s resignation to establish a more democratic process.

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