MSNBC — After deploying tear gas to break up pro-democracy demonstrators, police in Hong Kong warned late Sunday local time that they will use “a higher level of force” against the crowds of thousands if “public order” is not restored.

Demonstrators have gathered outside government headquarters near the city’s financial district calling for the Chinese government to grant democratic reforms in Hong Kong. An overwhelming amount of protesters were seen mimicking the symbolic “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture used throughout protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown.

Students – many of whom have already boycotted a week of classes – and activists began camping out on Friday, and were later joined by members of a civil disobedience movement known as Occupy Central.

Protesters told the Associated Press that the demonstrations were peaceful when riot police started to use pepper spray and launch tear gas canisters. That sent coughing protesters running in all directions, but many later reconvened vowing to keep the rally going. Police officers were wearing both helmets and respirators to protect them from the gas.

Government leaders in Hong Kong and Beijing called the demonstrations “unlawful” and “illegal” respectively, but many protesters say they will not waver.

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