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Hong Kong students storm government HQ to demand full democracy

More than a thousand protesters take part in a rally outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong September 26, 2014. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hundreds of pro-democracy activists stormed government headquarters late on Friday after student leaders demanding greater democracy urged them to charge into the compound.

Police used pepper spray as the protesters smashed barriers and climbed over fences in chaotic scenes in the heart of the Asian financial centre, following Beijing’s decision to rule out free elections for the city’s leader in 2017.

One student leader, Joshua Wong, a thin 17-year-old with dark-rimmed glasses and bowl-cut hair, was dragged away by police kicking and screaming as protesters chanted and struggled to free him.

The mayhem came after more than a thousand school children rallied to support tertiary students, who launched a class boycott to call for electoral reforms with a demonstration on Monday that drew about 13,000.

Hong Kong was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 with a promise of a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China under a formula known as “one country, two systems”. It envisaged universal suffrage as an eventual goal.

But Beijing last month rejected demands for people to freely choose the city’s next leader in 2017, prompting threats from pro-democracy activists to shut down the Central financial district. China wants to limit elections to a handful of candidates loyal to Beijing.

Reporting by James Pomfret, Yimou Lee and Diana Chan; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Andrew Roche