Protesters threaten to ignore instructions forbidding marches in Hong Kong streets

A weekend of anti-government protests began peacefully in Hong Kong but police warn they are prepared to use force if the crisis spirals further out of control.

There are strong signs now it's hurting the economy of one of the richest cities in the world.

"Fight for freedom! Stand with Hong Kong!" protesters chant. 

Hong Kong's protest movement has been maintaining its calm, fighting, for now, with words, not actions. Thousands of protesters, mostly students, rallied against China, and those in charge.

"We hope that New Zealand or other countries can help us. Hong Kong is not safe now because of the Government and the police," one protestor, Leo, told Newshub. 

Carrying symbols of Western democracy, appealing for the US and UK's help.

China says America is fanning the flames here, but protesters say the West should step up.

Saturday night's protest is passionate but peaceful, in marked contrast to the violence this week. But it is just the first in a long line this weekend, and the question is, how long can this last?

The fallout is growing, from the streets to the stock market.

The chief executive of Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's flagship airline, has just resigned.

Once a hub of global commerce, Hong Kong's economy is approaching recession and the unrest is partly to blame.

Kiwi Merrin Pearse has lived there for 12 years, he's a business consultant and says the crisis is getting worse.

"Meetings being cancelled, people not coming into meetings and events, or prepared to talk investment, that's going on and through the business community that's definitely an impact that's going through," he told Newshub. 

"People who have been here longer than I are saying 'this is not the place we thought we were living in'," he says. 

On the Hong Kong border, there are more shows of strength from China's paramilitary People's Armed Police. 

And there's no sign of the conflict easing. 

"There are more and more and more people coming out," a protestor said.

It's not getting smaller, it's getting bigger, meaning Hong Kong's fight for freedom could get violent again.

Many of this weekend's demonstrations have been banned by Hong Kong police.

Peaceful scenes on Friday night in Central were an officially sanctioned event. But others this weekend were refused permission, and tomorrow a huge rally of hundreds of thousands has been forbidden to march the streets. 

Protesters have ignored those instructions before - that is when we could see riot police, tear gas and that's when the ever-present threat, China's army, moves in.