HONG KONG (AFP) -- A sea of democracy activists flooded the streets of Hong Kong Sunday in a defiant show to the city's leaders that their movement still pulls wide public support, despite mounting violence and increasingly stark warnings from Beijing.
Tens of thousands of protesters carrying umbrellas poured across the heart of Hong Kong island despite torrential rain, closing key roads and flouting a police order not to march from a park where they had gathered earlier for a rally.
Ten weeks of demonstrations have plunged the financial hub into crisis, with images of masked black-clad protesters engulfed by tear gas during street battles against riot police stunning a city once renowned for its stability.
Sunday's action, which continued into the night, was billed by organisers as a return to the "peaceful" origins of the leaderless protest movement.
Yet anger remains sharp among protesters over perceived police heavy-handedness for responding to demonstrations with tear gas, baton charges and rubber bullets - incidents that have pinballed across social media.
"The police are doing things that are totally unacceptable," said Yim, who like many of the protesters gave only one name.
"They are hurting citizens, they aren't protecting us."
Communist-ruled mainland China has taken an increasingly hardline tone towards the protesters, decrying the "terrorist-like" actions of a violent hardcore minority among the demonstrators.
Despite the near-nightly clashes with police, the movement has won few concessions from Beijing or the city's unelected leadership.
The spiralling violence, which last week saw protesters paralyse the city's airport, has tarnished a campaign that had taken pride in its peaceful intent and unpredictability -- which demonstrators have tagged with the slogan 'Be Water'.
Sunday's rally was convened as a "non-violent" demonstration, according to organisers the Civil Human Rights Front. (AFP)