Hong Kong riot police fired volleys of tear gas at pro-democracy demonstrators late on Sunday night, just hours before one of the world’s major financial centres was due to open for business.
The week-long protests are turning into the worst unrest since China took back control of the former British colony in 1997.
The crowd was sent fleeing and several scuffles broke out along streets near the main government compound.
While the territory’s Chief Executive appealed for calm, protest leaders demanded his resignation.
“Seeing this is such an impactful incident, particularly because of the tear gas deployment, we need to sit down and review what happened to date. I guess it’s time to ask the government to step down. I mean talking about C.Y. Leung to step down.”
The latest series of rallies have revealed deep anger at Beijing’s reluctance to hold direct elections in 2017.
China guaranteed Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” policy, with universal suffrage set as an eventual goal.
But protesters fear Beijing wants to tighten its grip on the territory of 7 million people.
The government was quick to quash rumours that the Chinese army might intervene, leading some to wonder whether Hong Kong is on the brink of its own Tiananmen Square uprising.
So far Beijing has remained silent over the protests but some analysts doubt whether Chinese leaders will negotiate, for fear of encouraging protests in mainland cities.
Australia and Italy issued travel warnings for the city destination while some financial firms advised staff to work from home on Monday.