BEIJING - China on Tuesday called major pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong ‘illegal’, as state media insisted Beijing would not give in but would wait for public opinion to turn against the protests.

Tens of thousands in the global financial hub have been vowing not to end their street blockades until Beijing authorities grant them fully democratic leadership elections.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing that ‘an illegal assembly’ was held in Hong Kong beginning Sunday followed by ‘a series of illegal activities’. ‘We fully believe in and support the Hong Kong SAR government to deal with this issue,’ she added, after Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying said protests organised by the pro-democracy Occupy Central group had gotten ‘out of control’.

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China’s Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has made no public comment on the protests and remained silent as he and other top party officials offered flower baskets in Tiananmen Square on the first ‘Martyrs’ Day’, a new holiday to celebrate China’s national heroes. The previous evening Xi ‘appreciated a music concert’, the party’s official People’s Daily newspaper reported.

Xi was shown smiling and clapping flanked by current Premier Li Keqiang and former president Jiang Zemin, who rose to power following a violent military suppression of 1989 pro-democracy protests in Beijing. China under Xi has cracked down on dissent, but Hong Kong’s leadership has denied speculation that Beijing would send in the army to quash the protests.

The People’s Daily said in a commentary on its website the protesters were an ‘extreme minority’ who have ‘destroyed the rule of law’ in the city. ‘This breach of the peace and extreme behaviour will ultimately lead to a breakdown in social order,’ it added. The state-run China Daily said that the protests were ‘taking a toll on local harmony and stability’.

The Global Times said the ‘tide will turn against the oppositionists’ if Beijing stands firm. ‘The central government will not step back just because of the chaos created by the oppositionists,’ it said. ‘Hong Kong people see it clearly that the central government (Beijing) will not change its mind, they will recognise the dramas staged by the oppositionists are just making things worse,’ the paper added. Britain on Monday voiced concern about the escalating protests in Hong Kong and called for ‘constructive’ talks, while the United States asked Hong Kong’s leaders to show restraint and said it had made its support for universal suffrage in the territory known to Beijing.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua chided foreign countries making statements on the demonstrations. ‘Hong Kong affairs fall within China’s domestic affairs,’ she said. ‘We urge caution to outside parties and call for them not to interfere with China’s internal affairs in any way.’

Moreover, Hong Kong’s embattled leader called Tuesday for an immediate end to street demonstrations that have drawn tens of thousands and paralysed parts of the city, but protesters refused to move until China grants genuine democracy.

Protest leaders are confident they can muster massive crowds overnight and into Wednesday for the National Day public holiday, which this year marks the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist Party rule in China. In his first public comments since demonstrators were tear-gassed by riot police on Sunday evening, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the pro-democracy sit-in organised by the Occupy Central group was now ‘out of control’.

‘Occupy Central founders had said repeatedly that if the movement is getting out of control, they would call for it to stop. I’m now asking them to fulfil the promise they made to society, and stop this campaign immediately,’ he said. But protest leaders rejected Leung’s demands and renewed calls for the Beijing-backed leader to step down as they prepared for another night of huge demonstrations.

‘I think there will be a massive turnout, over 100,000 people tonight and leading into National Day,’ hedge fund manager and Occupy Central activist Ed Chin told AFP. Beijing has been left grappling with one of the biggest challenges to its rule over the semi-autonomous city at a time when the Communist Party is cracking down hard on dissent on the mainland. The demonstrations, the worst civil unrest Hong Kong has experienced since its 1997 handover from British rule, were sparked by Beijing’s decision last month to restrict who can stand for the city’s top post.

Hong Kongers will be able to vote for their next chief executive in 2017 elections but only two or three candidates vetted by a pro-Beijing committee will be allowed to stand - something which demonstrators have labelled a ‘fake democracy’ that shows Hong Kong cannot trust its mainland overseers.

Throughout Tuesday morning protester numbers dwindled from their overnight highs, when tens of thousands turned the city’s downtown into a carnival after riot police withdrew. But they began to pick up again in the afternoon and those manning the barricades showed no signs of backing down. ‘We have to keep fighting for freedom and democracy because it has been gradually taken away from us,’ 23-year-old Phoebe Wong told AFP. ‘People won’t stop until we have a result we’re happy with,’ she added.

In the central district of Admiralty - where many international businesses and the main protest site are located - an exhausted 20-year-old Sirius Lee said he would press on. ‘We are still struggling for our freedom and our right to select our chief executive in the future,’ the university student said. ‘I think the Beijing government chooses to hear nothing, to see nothing,’ he added.

Protesters have two demands - that Leung step down and Beijing rescind its insistence that his successor be vetted before standing for election. Alex Chow, chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, called on the government to respond to those demands by Thursday. ‘If the government does not respond after October 2, the action will inevitably be stepped up,’ he told reporters. But analysts say the chances of Beijing backing down are virtually non-existent, leaving a city once renowned for its stability plunged into an unknown future with democracy activists concerned the police could return in force at any moment.

Beijing stayed defiant Tuesday, saying it supported Hong Kong’s handling of the protests, which it described as ‘illegal activity’. ‘We fully believe in and support the Hong Kong SAR government to deal with this issue,’ foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing. Communist authorities are worried that dealing with the protests too softly could encourage wider demands for greater freedoms on the mainland, observers say. Hong Kong authorities meanwhile are caught between protester demands, Beijing’s uncompromising stance and efforts to keep the city running.

Many locals have expressed frustration at the huge disruption, with the crowds blocking key junctions in the busy Causeway Bay and Mongkok shopping districts as well as the biggest protest site in Admiralty near the government headquarters. Police Tuesday again called for the protesters to disperse, saying emergency services were being disrupted by the ongoing blockade of major carriageways. ‘The longest we’ve been delayed was 43.5 minutes,’ Deputy Chief Fire Officer Leung Wai-hung told reporters, adding that paramedics at one point needed to take the subway system because the roads were blocked. But the demonstrations have also prompted displays of solidarity. Some social workers and teachers went on strike after unions called for members to take action.

In the meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday he was ‘deeply concerned’ about escalating protests in Hong Kong and reminded China of its obligations towards the former British colony.

Britain handed control of Hong Kong to China in 1997 under an agreement that enshrined the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, which was meant to preserve Hong Kong’s capitalist system and way of life for a period up to 2047. Asked if he felt any obligation to speak up for the city, where tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand genuine democracy from China, Cameron said: ‘Of course, I feel a deep obligation.’

He told Sky News television: ‘When we reached the agreement with China there were details of that agreement about the importance of giving the Hong Kong people a democratic future within this two-systems approach that we were setting out with the Chinese. ‘So, of course, I am deeply concerned about what is happening and I hope this issue can be resolved.’ The demonstrators have demanded full universal suffrage after Beijing last month said it would allow elections for the semi-autonomous city’s next leader in 2017 but would vet the candidates - a decision branded a ‘fake democracy’. Beijing on Tuesday called the street protests ‘illegal’. On Monday, the British Foreign Office said people in Hong Kong should be able to exercise their right to demonstrate within the law, adding: ‘These freedoms are best guaranteed by the transition to universal suffrage.’