The founders of Hong Kong's Occupy Central civil disobedience movement on Tuesday called on pro-democracy activists to retreat from the city center over fears of violence, just hours after a student leader had called on supporters to regroup.
Protesters on the streets, while united in their calls for full democracy for the Chinese-ruled city, have been split over tactics since the demonstrations started in late September and the movement has lacked a clear leadership.
On Monday, thousands of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists forced the temporary closure of government headquarters after clashing with police, defying police orders to pull back.
Benny Tai, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, urged the protesters to go home on Tuesday, saying the situation had become dangerous.
"The government that uses police batons to maintain its authority is a government that is beyond reason," Tai, one of three leaders of the Occupy movement, told a news conference.
"For the sake of the occupier safety and for the sake of the original intention of love and peace, as we prepare to surrender, we three urge students to retreat, to put down deep roots in the community and transform the movement to extend the spirit of the umbrella movement."
The movement was named after protesters used umbrellas as flimsy shields against police pepper spray and it has become one of the biggest political challenges to face China's Communist Party leadership since it crushed pro-democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989.