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Hong Kong leader: I will not step down in face of protests

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong's embattled leader offered Thursday to hold talks between his government and pro-democracy protesters, but said he will not accept their demand that he resign.

Hong Kong protestors call for leader to resign

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying told reporters that he has asked the territory's top civil servant to arrange talks with the protesters, who have been demanding electoral reforms. The massive street demonstrations are the biggest challenge to Beijing's authority in Hong Kong since China took control of the former British colony in 1997.

Leung made the comments at a news conference just minutes before a deadline that had been set by the protesters for him to step down.

Standing beside him, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said she would seek to arrange talks with student leaders of the protest as soon as possible.

"I hope both sides will be satisfied," she said. "Students had wanted a public meeting but I hope that we can have some flexibility to discuss details."

Drone's eye view of Hong Kong protests

Before Leung's announcement, the heads of two major universities whose students have joined others in launching the protests appeared before a jittery crowd massed in front of the entrance to the leader's office and appealed for calm.

During the day, the protesters prepared face masks and goggles while police brought in supplies of tear gas and other riot gear as tensions grew in an increasingly tense standoff outside the imposing government compound near the waterfront.

Police warned of serious consequences if the protesters tried to surround or occupy government buildings. The protesters threatened to do so if Leung didn't resign by the end of Thursday.

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In his news conference, held just before midnight, Leung said the authorities would continue to tolerate the protests as long as participants did not charge police lines.

"In any place in the world, if there are any protesters that surround, attack, or occupy government buildings like police headquarters, or the chief executive's office ... the consequences are serious," Leung said, according to Reuters.

CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reports that the protesters are policing themselves and helping each other -- whether it's navigating barricades, offering water, a cooling spray of mist on the hot streets, or even a free haircut. Uniformed police, as of early Thursday evening, were hanging back.

Barry Hoi, among the protesters, told Doane he thinks Beijing is unlikely to budge, but he and his fellow demonstrators still have hope, and discipline. Hoi said keeping the protest polite and civil was the best way to show that Hong Kong should be democratic.

Both the Chinese government and the protesters seemed to be losing patience after a week of street demonstrations.

"It's turning out to be a high-stakes poker game. The stakes are rising," said Willy Lam, a politics professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "Something will have to give because the pressure keeps mounting on both sides to make a compromise."

In a reflection of growing concern in Beijing, the People's Daily, published by China's ruling Communist Party, warned in a commentary Thursday of "chaos" in Hong Kong, and expressed strong support for Leung in his face-off with the protesters, an amorphous movement led mostly by university students.

It said the central government firmly supports the Hong Kong police - criticized for using tear gas and pepper spray on the protesters last weekend - "to handle illegal activities in accordance with the law."

The protesters oppose Beijing's decision in August that all candidates in Hong Kong's first direct election in 2017 for the territory's top post must be approved by a mostly pro-Beijing committee. They accuse the central government of reneging on a promise that the chief executive would be chosen through "universal suffrage."

The students began occupying the area outside the entrance of the imposing government compound housing Leung's office late Wednesday, at times reluctantly moving to allow police vehicles and an ambulance to enter. As Thursday wore on, they grew increasingly resistant to allowing more vehicles in after police hand-carried in tubs labeled "rubber batons" and tear gas.

"I don't think we should let the supplies go through with the ambulance. Who knows if they will sneak in more rubber bullets and tear gas? We shouldn't let them bring in more supplies that will eventually hurt us," said Lap Cheung, 40, a web developer.

It was unclear if the students would press ahead with the threat to occupy government buildings if their demands are not met. Police issued a stern warning that such moves by the protesters would not be tolerated.

"Police emphasize that that is unlawful behavior," they said in a statement. "If they refuse to comply with police advice and warnings, police will take resolute enforcement actions."

The protesters did not say exactly what they planned to do. Joshua Wong, a student activist, urged the public to come out in support.

"I don't know what they mean by what kind of actions they would take to clear us out, but we hope they will not use violence again," Wong said.

Some protesters said they disagreed with the threat to occupy government buildings.

"Getting into a confrontation with police doesn't seem peaceful to me," said Wilson Yip, a 22-year-old recent university graduate. "If they try to force themselves inside and confront police, I don't see what kind of point that would make. It may make fewer people support the protests."

At a meeting Wednesday in Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry told China's top diplomat the U.S. government has "high hopes that the Hong Kong authorities will exercise restraint and respect the protesters right to express their views peacefully."

Earlier, Kerry had publicly called for Beijing to grant the "highest possible degree of autonomy" to Hong Kong.

As CBS News' Margaret Brennan reported, however, there was no mistaking Beijing's reply to Kerry: back off.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi clearly told Kerry that the U.S. should not meddle in the situation in Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong affairs are China's internal affairs. All countries should respect China's sovereignty," Wang told Kerry in a photo spray immediately preceding their closed-door meeting at the State Department. Wang is the highest ranking Chinese official to speak openly about the protests, which Beijing considers to be "illegal."

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