As Hong Kong's "umbrella revolution" enters its sixth day, thousands of pro-democracy protesters are continuing to peacefully show China they will not be deterred by demands to disperse, having spent the night on Hong Kong's rain-soaked streets in an unprecedented show of civil disobedience.
Thunder, lightning and heavy rain failed to dampen spirits, as crowds - dubbed "the world's politest protesters" - weathered the storm with a festive spirit by peacefully singing songs and chanting "keep it up!" as China prepared to celebrate its National Day anniversary Wednesday.
As organisers continue to press demands for free elections, pro-democracy protests swelled in Hong Kong on the eve of the two-day holiday that may bring record numbers to rallies spreading throughout the city.
Once again, throngs of protesters were pictured huddled under umbrellas - the most recognisable symbol for the Occupy Central protest movement - but sheltered from torrential rain, rather than pepper spray and tear gas that had been deployed by police at the weekend.
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This morning, the pro-democracy protesters kept behind police barricades heckled Hong Kong's under-fire leader when he attended a flag-raising ceremony on China's National Day.
The protesters, furious that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has refused to meet them, have threatened to expand their demonstrations unless he resigns and the Chinese leadership agrees to broader electoral reforms.
Students from Hong Kong University had previously made an online appeal for people not to disturb the flag-raising ceremony - highlighting nervousness that such a move may have provoked violence.
Instead, after the hundreds of protesters yelled at Leung to step down, they fell silent and peacefully turned their backs when the ceremony began.
"We want to be heard, we want to stand here peacefully, but we’re not going to be aggressive," one of the protesters said, Reuters reported.
Protest leaders set an October 1st deadline for their demands to be met, plunging China into the worst political crisis since its 1997 handover.
But police have threatened to use a “higher degree of force” if the demonstrators, who want Beijing to give Hong Kong a free vote for its next leader, do not disband.
"We are not afraid of riot police, we are not afraid of tear gas, we are not afraid of pepper spray. We will not leave until Leung Chun-ying resigns. We will not give up, we will persevere until the end," Lester Shum, one student protester shouted, the Associated Press reported.
China's communist leaders take a hard line against any threat to their monopoly on power, but it cannot crack down too harshly on the semi-autonomous territory where a freewheeling media ensures global visibility.
The growing protests have attracted worldwide attention, with Prime Minister David Cameron saying he planned to summon the Chinese ambassador to discuss the dispute, saying it is essential that Hong Kong's people have a genuine right to choose their top leader.
"It is not for us to involve ourselves in every dot and comma of what the Chinese set out," Cameron said in England. But he added: "I think it is a critical question. Real universal suffrage doesn't just mean the act of voting; it means a proper choice."
China's government has condemned the student-led protests as illegal, though so far it has not overtly intervened, leaving Hong Kong authorities to handle the crisis. Over the weekend, police fired tear gas and pepper spray in an attempt to disperse the protesters, but the demonstrations only spread.Suggest a correction