In a significant escalation of their efforts to suppress protests calling for democracy, the authorities in Hong Kong unleashed tear gas, mobilized riot police with long-barreled guns and closed a subway station Sunday to disperse crowds that have besieged the city government for three days. But thousands of residents wielding only umbrellas and face masks defied police orders to clear the area.

Hours after the police sought to break up the protest, large crowds of demonstrators remained nearby, sometimes confronting lines of officers and chanting for them to lay down their truncheons and shields. Police officers were also injured in skirmishes with protesters. Streets of a city known as a safe enclave for commerce became a nighttime battleground.

Steve Lee, 23, a recent university graduate who joined the protest, sobbed on the sidewalk after exposure to tear gas. “I don’t understand how the government can, in less than 30 seconds after a warning, use tear gas against peaceful student protesters,” he said.

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