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In Times Square, demonstrators back Hong Kong protesters

[NEW YORK] Chanting "Hong Kong, Stay Strong," about 350 people rallied in New York city's Times Square late Wednesday to show their support for pro-democracy protesters in the southern Chinese city.

Many were toting umbrellas which have become a symbol of the massive protests in Hong Kong seeking broader democratic freedoms.

Four days of peaceful demonstrations have seen tens of thousands of people take over usually traffic-heavy streets in Hong Kong as they demand Beijing grant free elections in the semi-autonomous city.

Demonstrators, who have shut down central areas of Hong Kong for four days, gave its chief executive Leung Chun-ying until midnight Thursday to step down, or face escalated action.

"It's going to be a long fight, but I hope the people of HK will keep strong and keep fighting for their rights," said Erin Robles, 22, an interior designer who came to New York from Hong Kong to study.

"I support what they are fighting for. I still feel very strongly that I am part of the people there," she explained.

Laurie Wen, a native Hong Konger who was one of the New York event's organizers, said of the protests at home: "How can you not be moved?

"I was born in HK, without the right to vote, and that is supposed to be over. This is unacceptable," she said.

The New York show of solidarity came as support for the protesters has been growing worldwide. About 4,000 people turned out in Taipei while in London 2,000 people gathered outside the Chinese embassy.

In Washington, Beijing warned the United States to back off, in its strongest riposte yet to worldwide supporters of the suffrage movement.

"Hong Kong affairs are China's internal affairs," Foreign Minister Wang Yi told US Secretary of State John Kerry at a press conference.

"All countries should respect China's sovereignty and this is a basic principle of governing international relations," Wang said sternly.

He added that Beijing would not tolerate "illegal acts that violate public order".

Kerry replied urging Hong Kong authorities to "exercise restraint and respect the protesters' right to express their views peacefully." The Hong Kong protesters are furious at the Chinese government's refusal to allow free elections for the city's next leader in 2017.

Beijing insists that only two or three candidates vetted by a pro-Beijing committee will be permitted to stand. - AFP