Hong Kong’s leader has said his top official will meet protest leaders in a last-minute olive branch to avoid protesters taking over government offices.
Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters have taken over central Hong Kong streets since the weekend in the so-called “umbrella revolution”.
The demonstrators had warned they would occupy buildings if Chief Executive CY Leung did not step down by 5pm BST on Thursday.
A few minutes before the deadline, Mr Leung told the media he would not be quitting and warned of serious repercussions if protesters followed through with their threat.
“In any place in the world, if there are any protesters that surround, attack, or occupy government buildings like police headquarters, or the chief executive’s office … the consequences are serious,” he said.
But Mr Leung said his top civil servant, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, would hold talks with protesters to discuss “constitutional development”.
“I hope both sides will be satisfied,” said Ms Lam.
“Students had wanted a public meeting but I hope that we can have some flexibility to discuss details.”
The Hong Kong Federation of Students agreed to join the talks, focused specifically on political reforms.
They reiterated that Mr Leung resign, saying he “had lost his integrity”.
Occupy Central, a wider pro-democracy group that had joined the protests, also welcomed the talks and also insisted that Mr Leung quit
The protesters have been railing against plans that will force them to choose their leader from among approved communist loyalists in 2017.
Tensions were high ahead of Mr Leung’s last-minute news conference after police had earlier been seen carrying what appeared to be supplies of rubber bullets and riot gear.
Police used tear gas and baton charges when the protests began last weekend.
Demonstrators – most of them students or young people – have taken to carrying umbrellas and wearing goggles and plastic macs as makeshift protection against another gas attack.
So far, however, the protests clogging the centre of Hong Kong have been mainly peaceful.
Sky News Correspondent Jonathan Samuels, at the scene, said thousands had gathered outside Mr Leung’s office to hear his statement.
Despite the leader refusing calls to step down, Samuels said the atmosphere remained calm with chanting but no signs of trouble.
“It seems to have brought both sides a little more time,” said Samuels.
David Cameron told Sky News he is “deeply concerned” about the situation in the former British colony, which was handed back to China in 1997.
China has issued a stern warning to other countries not to meddle in its affairs.
Hong Kong now operates under Beijing’s control using the principle of “one country, two systems”.
People in the bustling financial centre are allowed far more freedom than those on the Chinese mainland, such as the right to demonstrate.