Pro-democracy protesters open their umbrellas to mark one month since they took to the streets, in the Mongkok district of Hong Kong on October 28, 2014
Hong Kong democracy activists on Tuesday marked one month of mass protests by unfurling a sea of umbrellas as student leaders called for direct talks with Beijing officials, the first time such a request has been made.
At an evening rally at the main protest camp, thousands raised umbrellas to mark the moment a month ago when police fired tear gas at largely peaceful crowds -- kickstarting the most concerted challenge to Beijing since the bloody 1989 Tiananmen protests.
As protesters streamed into the site Alex Chow -- president of leading protest group the Hong Kong Federation of Students -- said he would seek a meeting with China's Prime Minister Li Keqiang if the Hong Kong government failed to relay protesters' demands to mainland authorities.
Parts of the semi-autonomous Chinese city, an Asian financial hub, have been paralysed by a month of mass rallies and roadblocks.
Protesters want China to rescind its decision in August that all candidates in elections for the city's leader in 2017 must be vetted by a loyalist committee -- an arrangement demonstrators deride as "fake democracy".
Talks between the government and student leaders last week made little headway. The government offered to write a report to Beijing on events since protests began and to set up a committee with demonstrators to discuss further constitutional reform.
But Chow Tuesday said any report must include a direct request from the city authorities calling on mainland authorities to withdraw their August decision.
"If the Hong Kong government has difficulty meeting our demands, we sincerely hope that arrangements could be made for us to directly meet with premier Li Keqiang as soon as possible," Chow said.
It is the first time students have broadcast the idea of going straight to Beijing to negotiate.
Their request echoes the Tiananmen protests when student leaders eventually met then-premier Li Peng for what turned out to be fruitless talks.
On June 3/4 the movement was brutally crushed by the military, with hundreds -- and by some estimates thousands -- killed.
- Movement at an impasse -
Organisers of the demonstrations have been hoping to inject new momentum into the movement after reaching an impasse with the government and seemingly struggling to decide how to proceed.
The protests have been dubbed the "Umbrella Movement" following the creative ways demonstrators used them to shelter from the heat, torrential rain, pepper spray and police batons.
Tuesday's rally opposite the city's government headquarters in Admiralty district started with an 87-second silence at 5:57 pm (0957 GMT).
At that time on September 28, riot police shot the first of 87 canisters of tear gas at crowds who had taken over a highway near the city parliament.
That decision backfired, drawing tens of thousands of sympathisers onto the streets and fuelling a movement that has defied many expectations both for its size and longevity.
But the Chinese government has shown no sign of backing down. Protest leaders are also aware that the disruption caused by their roadblocks has sparked mounting public frustration.
Occupy's co-founder and university professor Benny Tai said Tuesday he planned to spend more time away from protest sites and return to teaching, but insisted it was not a retreat.
But many of those at the rally said they could not leave the streets until genuine democratic progress was made.
"We can't retreat because we haven't got anything yet," 52-year-old computer programmer Any Ho told AFP. "Democracy cannot be taken for granted. We have to be persistent for it to come."
In surprisingly frank comments from a mainland Chinese businessman, billionaire Alibaba founder Jack Ma said the protests were the result of "young people who don't have hope".
"All the big guys take... the good things and the young people feel hopeless. I understand that but they should not push too much. Both sides should listen," he was quoted by the Wall Street Journal's website as saying during a conference run by the media group in California.