Hong Kong is bracing for a weekend of demonstrations including a human chain outside major subway stations on Friday and what authorities have called an illegal democracy march on Sunday.
The city, which has been battered by more than four months of anti-government protests, is facing a recession as a result of the impact the unrest has had on tourism and retail.
Hardline protesters have torched metro stations and Chinese banks and scores of shops they believe are linked to mainland China. Many businesses have been forced to close.
It has been two weeks since Carrie Lam, chief executive of the city, invoked colonial-era emergency laws banning face masks in the hope of quelling the protests, which instead unleashed some of the most intense unrest so far.
Despite relative calm over the last few days, prominent human rights activist Jimmy Sham was brutally attacked on Wednesday, in a move pro-democracy politicians said was meant to intimidate protesters and incite violence ahead of Sunday’s planned march.
On Friday, police rejected a permit request for the march, meaning it will be an illegal rally. However, thousands of people have defied police in the past to stage mass rallies, which often began peacefully but descended into violence at night.
Pro-democracy protesters have called for a 25-mile human chain outside metro stations on Friday night, and asked people to wear face masks in defiance of the ban.
During previous rounds of unrest, riot police and protesters have fought street battles, as police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and occasionally live rounds against brick- and petrol-bomb-throwing activists.
Two people have been shot and wounded by police and thousands injured. Police have arrested more than 2,300 people since June, many of them teenagers, and some as young as 12.
Many Hong Kong residents are angry with what they believe is excessive force used by police.
Hong Kong’s commissioner of police, Stephen Lo, said on Friday that his force was facing an unprecedented challenge.
“Our hearts are heavy; our responsibilities are immense. I remain steadfast in my conviction that we can weather the storm and restore the law and order for our city,” he told a ceremony for past fallen officers.
Ms Lam has refused to agree to the protesters’ five core demands: universal suffrage, an independent inquiry into police behaviour, amnesty for those charged, to stop describing protesters as rioters, and the formal withdrawal of a China extradition bill.
The extradition bill, which would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to Communist Party-controlled courts for trial, was seen as the latest move to erode freedoms in the city and sparked the unrest.
Ms Lam has said the bill is now dead, but it has not been formally withdrawn.
Additional reporting by agencies